MOGADISHU, Somalia – The recent attacks on the Westgate Mall leave many people wondering: who are al-Shabaab? Many of us are only familiar with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but al-Shabaab is another entity all together.
Al-Shabaab means “the youth” in Arabic. The group was formed when Ethiopian soldiers invaded Somalia in order to keep the government in power. As fighting raged on the group gained further resentment to foreigners involved in the fighting in Somalia.
This is one major reason behind the attack on westgate mall. Many analysts say the Kenyan military actions in Somalia created resentment amongst members of al-Shabaab, thus the planning of the attack. Since 2011 both Ethiopia and Kenya have beefed up their military presence against al-Shabaab.
The group may have up to 9,000 members and has been banned in foreign countries, including the US.
The attack may be more than just a jab at Kenya for its involvement in Somalia. Al-Shabaab does not have control of any urban areas in Somalia, and has been forced to be active in rural areas. The attack may be meant as a message to its members and the world that al-Shabaab still holds some power.
The African Union has been extremely active in Somalia, trying to dismantle the terrorist organization. Even though the attack in Kenya was a rare international terrorist attack from the group, they remain very active within Somalia. Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for many suicide bombs within the country.
In 2012, al-Shabaab became a sponsor group of Al-Qaeda. Since then the two groups have worked together and al-Shabaab has pledged loyalty to Al-Qaeda.
Al-Shabaab has had other limited strikes outside of Somalia. The group also claimed responsibility to an attack in Uganda in 2010 that left more than 80 people dead.
The group claimed similar reasons for its attack in Uganda, stating that Uganda has provided the majority of troops the AU has used in Somalia.
The future of this conflict is unsure. There is a new president in Somalia elected in 2012 who is extremely anti-al-Shabaab. Furthermore, Ethiopia has turned over military responsibility to the AU. Hopefully, the AU can have success in dismantling the terrorist organization and set Somalia on a path of stability. Only then can major poverty and human rights issues in Somalia be solved.
– Zachary Patterson