The African militant organization Al-Shabaab, which means “The Youth,” is an international terrorist group with connections to Al-Qaeda in Central Asia and the Middle East. The Al-Shabaab is based in East Africa and controlled some urban areas in Yemen and southern Somalia. In 2014, it maintained a sizable militant army of around 7,000 to 9,000 recruits. In 2012, it leaders had a tiff with their Al-Qaeda counterparts and the connection was temporarily affected. As a result the Al-Shabaab lost ground and retreated to rural areas in the southern region of Somalia. The militant group has religious affiliations with Salafi jihadism, Wahhabism, and Militant Islamism. It maintains its headquarters in Barawe, Somalia.
4. Organizational History and Notable Members
The Salafi Wahhabist Jihad group has a major presence in East Africa, though many members are trained in the Middle East. Al-Shabaab was founded in 2006 after the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was nearly destroyed by the Somalian Transitional Federal Government and its Ethiopian allies in the civil strife in Somalia in 2006. The defeat of the ICU caused several splinter militant groups to form with the aim of defeating the enemies of Islam. Al-Shabaab is under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri of the Al-Qaeda. It was founded by Ahmed Abdi Godane who leads the foreign legion faction (killed in 2014), succeeded by Ahmad Umar, former member of Amniya, intelligence arm of Al-Shabaab. The group’s co-founder, Hassan Dahir Aweys, leads the national legion faction.
3. Campaigns and Victories
Over the course of its militant history, Al-Shabaab was connected at one time or another with the Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, although it does not see eye-to-eye with the militant Sufi group Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a. Al-Shabaab has been recruiting militant members in Europe and the US. It was responsible for the bombing and killings of several government ministers in Somalia in 2009. The militant group has continued to expand its terrorist activities in Somalia and Yemen. It has put up more training camps for its recruits with Muslim Americans assisting. It has also allied itself with the Foreign Mujahedeen Allied Democratic Forces.
2. Challenges and Controversies
In 2011, however, due to dwindling resources and funding, Al-Shabaab began to assimilate its activities with pirates and criminal organizations. Some witnesses say that the pirates were forced to cooperate with the militant group and were contributing their takes to the group. On their part, the pirates admitted cooperation due to their activities in Southern Somalia which is under control of Al-Shabaab. Foreign aid agencies were also being extorted for aid and services by the militant group according to some aid workers who admitted it was necessary to allow them to deliver aid to the stricken areas.
1. Cultural Depictions and Legacy
The Al-Shabaab militant members have been upgrading their image as an important component of Somalia in their Jihad fight against unbelievers and heretics. They have endeared themselves to the suffering Somalian people by allowing foreign aid workers to deliver much needed food and medicine to the stricken areas. A large part of their propaganda apparatus depends on its own radio station, Radio Andalus, aided by several other radio relay stations that has far-reaching broadcasts in Africa. They also own a television station. The internet is also another medium for recruiting youth and women to their ranks. Music is another medium they have used in getting sympathy for their cause. The government of Somalia has responded that Al-Shabaab has been misleading its youth and should not be given any platform to continue doing so. In 2011, during the drought in eastern Africa, the group used foreign aid as a tool to recruit more members. Time and again, the militant group has endeared itself to the populace in southern Somalia as saviors against foreign soldiers. They have claimed that international terrorism was never part of their agenda but their Jihad was for a fundamentalist government in their country.