Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM), or commonly known as Al-Shabaab, is a Salafist– Islamist militancy group currently waging war majorly in Somalia and sporadically in East Africa. The name ‘Al-Shabaab’ means “the Youth” in Arabic or Movement of “Striving Youth”. The group’s leadership is based in Somalia’s Lower Juba region capital Jiliib.
The jihadist group was founded in 2006 by young men who prior were the armed militia for the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and were Somalia’s one-time rulers. Al-Shabaab pledged fealty to the Islamist militant group Al-Qaeda in 2012 and has been waging war to the Western-backed Federal government of Somalia and its allies in an effort to impose strict interpretation of Islamic law (sharia law).
Al-Shabaab in Somalia
For decades, Somalia has lacked an effective government. Since 1991, when President Siad Barre was overthrown by tribal warlords, the weak government battling with poverty made Somalia an easy target for radical Islamist groups. These desperate clans/warlords formed al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI), which worked to create an Islamist emirate in Somalia.
AIAI, was partially funded by former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. According to the Council on Foreign Relations it failed to fill the power vacuum and subsequently plunged Somalia into decades of civil unrest, with several failed attempts to establish a viable government. Designated as a terrorist group in 1991 by U.S. State Department, AIAI somehow strengthened after the Siad Barre was ousted. Years of lawlessness ensued, and a rift emerged between AIAI’s old guard in 2003.
The old guards were seeking to establish a new political front while the youngsters wanted to establish fundamental Islamic rule. That fighting led the younger members to ally with a group of Sharia courts then known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that seemed to share the same vision of Islamic rule.
In 2006, Al-Shabaab (striving youth) was formed and continued to work together with the Islamic Courts Union. The same year Al-Shabaab gained control of Mogadishu, sparkling fear in neighboring Ethiopia that violence would spill over to their side. Those fears and combined with struggling Somalia transitional government led Ethiopia deploying its forces in Somalia in December 2006 to dislodge ICU from power.
Al-Shabaab Areas of Operations
The ongoing onslaught in Somalia has targeted Al-Shabaab leadership, training camps, command and logistics nodes, and concentrated militant positions. Though Al-Shabaab militant group has suffered heavy casualties over years, it still controls some territories. The Al-Qaeda’s affiliated Al-Shabaab retains strong and active sleeper cells in south-central Somalia and along Kenya-Somalia border.
Al-Shabaab capitalized on AMISOM (AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia) Ethiopian troop withdrawals from Hiraan, Bakool, and Galgudud regions in south-central Somalia to regain the control of a number of rural towns. Al-Shabaab has managed to retain control of some areas in Bay, Middle Jubba, and Lower Shabelle regions in southern Somalia though counter-terrorism effort is narrowing down on the rag tag militia. The militant group continue with its campaigns in Somalia capital Mogadishu where it has steadily increased its operations over years.
Al-Shabaab Recruitment and Size (Numbers)
Al-Shabaab sits on a key line of infrastructures between the Middle East and Africa—a link that A-Qaeda, it parent group has sought to maintain for years. Al-Shabaab communicates with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, as well as the network of Al-Qaeda linked units operating throughout Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Uganda and Sudan. Al-Shabaab’s strength contributes to the strength of the Al-Qaeda network overall believed to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters (as of 2017 estimate).
What do Al-Shabaab Want to Achieve?
Al-Shabaab primary objective to fight and topple the government of Somalia in effort to establish an alternative ‘government that endorses a strict interpretation of Sharia law. The terror group is known for heinous terrorism acts including beheading, amputations and stoning to death those who they claim violate what is seen as Allah’s law. The traditionally moderate Somali Muslims, are shocked by Al-Shabaab’s actions, but some have been hoodwinked and credits the insurgents with having restored order to the areas under their control.
The Islamist militant group Al-Shabab is battling who they claim as ‘oppressors, apostates’. In East Africa, they are fighting Kenya in retaliatory of their incursion in Somalia. They also brainwash their followers especially from northeastern and coastal regions of Kenya that they must fight the ‘oppressors’ to claim their Muslim land back. Their primary targets include the Christians, educational facilities, recreational facilities, transport resources, commercial assets, Government assets, police stations, military patrols and military bases.