Al-Shabaab (militant group)

Al-Shabaab (militant group)
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Participant in

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Black Standard used by al-Shabaab
Active 2006–present
  • Kismayo (22 August 2008 – 29 September 2012)
  • Barawe[3] (29 September 2012 – 5 October 2014)
Area of operations Southern Somalia and Yemen[4]
Size 7,000–9,000[5]
Part of Al-Qaeda
Split from Islamic Courts Union
Allies al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Foreign Mujahedeen
Allied Democratic Forces

State Opponents

Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM; Arabic: حركة الشباب المجاهدين‎‎, Ḥarakat ash-Shabāb al-Mujāhidīn; Somali: Xarakada Mujaahidiinta Alshabaab, lit. "Mujahideen Youth Movement" or "Movement of Striving Youth"), more commonly known as al-Shabaab (Arabic: الشباب‎, lit. '"The Youth" or "The Youngsters", but can be translated as "The Guys"'‎), is a jihadist fundamentalist group based in East Africa. In 2012, it pledged allegiance to the militant Islamist organization Al-Qaeda.[7] In February of the year, some of the group's leaders quarreled with Al-Qaeda over the union,[8][9] and quickly lost ground.[10] Al-Shabaab's troop strength was estimated at 7,000 to 9,000 militants in 2014.[5] As of 2015, the group has retreated from the major cities, controlling a few rural areas.[11]

Al-Shabaab is an offshoot of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which splintered into several smaller factions after its defeat in 2006 by Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the TFG's Ethiopian military allies.[12] The group describes itself as waging jihad against "enemies of Islam", and is engaged in combat against the Federal Government of Somalia and the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Al-Shabaab has been designated as a terrorist organization by Australia, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.[13][14] As of June 2012, the US State Department has open bounties on several of the group's senior commanders.[15]

In early August 2011, the Transitional Federal Government's troops and their AMISOM allies managed to capture all of Mogadishu from the Al-Shabaab militants.[16] An ideological rift within the group's leadership also emerged, and several of the organization's senior commanders were assassinated.[17] Due to its Wahhabi roots, Al Shabaab is hostile to Sufi traditions,[18] and has often clashed with the militant Sufi group Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a.[19] The group has also been suspected of having links with Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram. Additionally, it attracted some members from western countries, notably Samantha Lewthwaite and Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki.

In August 2014, the Somali government-led Operation Indian Ocean was launched to clean up the remaining insurgent-held pockets in the countryside.[20] On 1 September 2014, a U.S. drone strike carried out as part of the broader mission killed Al-Shabaab leader Moktar Ali Zubeyr.[21] U.S. authorities hailed the raid as a major symbolic and operational loss for al-Shabaab, and the Somali government offered a 45-day amnesty to all moderate members of the militant group.[22]


Al-Shabaab is also known as Ash-Shabaab, Hizbul Shabaab ("Party of the Youth),[23] and Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations (PRM) (Arabic: حركة المقاومة الشعبية فى بلاد الهجرتين‎‎). [24] For short, the organization is referred to as HSM, which stands for "Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen". The term Shabaab means "youth" in Arabic, and the group should not be confused with similarly named groups.

Organization and leadership

Al-Shabaab's composition is multiethnic, with its leadership positions mainly occupied by Afghanistan- and Iraq-trained ethnic Somalis and foreigners.[25] According to the National Counterterrorism Center, the group's rank-and-file members hail from disparate local groups, sometimes recruited by force.[26] Unlike most of the organization's top leaders,[27] its foot soldiers are primarily concerned with nationalist and clan-related affairs as opposed to the global jihad. They are also prone to infighting and shifting alliances.[26] According to the Jamestown Foundation, Al-Shabaab seeks to exploit these vulnerabilities by manipulating clan networks in order to retain power. The group itself is likewise not entirely immune to local politics.[27] More recently, Muslim converts from neighbouring countries have been conscripted, typically to do undesirable or difficult work.[28]

Although al-Shabaab's leadership ultimately falls upon al-Qaeda leader Ameer Ragheb, the internal leadership is not fully clear, and with foreign fighters trickling out of the country, its structure is increasingly decentralized. Ahmed Abdi Godane was publicly named as emir of al-Shabaab in December 2007.[29] In August 2011, Godane was heavily criticized by Al-Shabaab co-founder Hassan Dahir Aweys and others for not letting aid into the hunger stricken parts of southern Somalia. Although not formally announced, Shabaab was effectively split up into a "foreign legion," led by Godane, and a coalition of factions forming a "national legion" under Aweys. The latter group often refused to take orders from Godane and the two groups hardly talked to each other. In February 2012, Godane made Bay'ah, or an oath of allegiance, to al-Qaeda. With it he likely hoped to reclaim and extend his authority, and to encourage foreign fighters to stay. This move will further complicate the cooperation with the "national legion" of al-Shabaab.[7] Godane was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Somalia on September 1, 2014.[30] Ahmad Umar was named Godane's successor on 6 September 2014, he is believed to have previously played a role in al-Shabaab's internal secret service known as Amniya.[31]


Other leaders:

Mukhtar Robow ("Abu Mansoor"), the Second Deputy Leader of Al-Shabaab.


al-Shabaab is said to have many foreigners within its ranks, particularly at the leadership level.[25][50] Fighters from the Persian Gulf and international jihadists were called to join the holy war against the Somali government and its Ethiopian allies. Though Somali Islamists did not originally use suicide bombing tactics, the foreign elements of al-Shabaab have been blamed for several suicide bombings.[51][52] A 2006 UN report identified Libya, and Egypt, among countries in the region, as the main backers of the Islamist extremists. Egypt has a longstanding policy of securing the Nile River flow by destabilizing Ethiopia.[53][54]

Formerly a predominantly nationalist organization, al-Shabaab repositioned itself as a militant Islamist group that also attracted a large cadre of Western devotees.[55] As of 2011, the group's foreign recruitment strategy was active in the United States, where members attempted to recruit from the local Muslim communities.[56] According to an investigative report by the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, Al Shabaab recruited over 40 Muslim Americans since 2007.[56] In 2010, the New York Times reported that after more than a dozen Americans were killed in Somalia, the organization's recruiting success had decreased in the US.[57]

These American and foreign recruits played a dual role within the organization, serving as mercenaries and as a propaganda tool for radicalization and recruitment. These individuals, including Omar Hammami, appeared in propaganda videos posted in online forums to appeal to disaffected Muslim youth and inspire them to join the Islamist struggle.[58] This was a top-down strategy, wherein Islamist agents attempted to use mosques and legitimate businesses as a cover to meet, recruit, and raise funds for operations in the US and abroad.[58] By mid-2013, the U.S. Congress reported that such militant recruitment appeared to have halted.[59]

Most of the foreign al-Shabaab members come from Yemen, Sudan, the Swahili Coast, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. As of 2010, their number was estimated at between 200 and 300 militants, augmented by around 1,000 diasporan ethnic Somalis.[25] Many of Al-Shabaab's foot soldiers also belong to Somalia's marginalized ethnic minorities from the farming south.[60]

Of the foreign members, Jonathan Evans, the former head of MI5, addressing a London security conference in 2010,[61] advised that "a significant number of UK residents" were training with al-Shabaab. Linking this increased involvement with a reduction in Al Qaida activity in Pakistan's tribal areas, he also suggested that since Somalia, like Afghanistan, at the time had no effective central government, the presence of foreign fighters there could inspire terrorist incidents in the UK. "It is only a matter of time before we see terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting alongside al-Shabaab."[62] The actual number has been estimated at between 50[63] and 100[64] persons; one source estimating around 60 active Al-Shabaab recruiters, including 40 Somalis and an additional 20 mainly British-based 'clean skins', individuals who have not committed any crimes but are believed to have ties with the group.[65] There is also evidence of funding of the group by Somalis resident in Britain.[62][66]

Of the ten people subject to control orders (now Tpim orders) in 2012, at least five are associated with al-Shabaab: (pseudonymously) CC, CE "a British citizen of Iranian origin, aged 28 in 2012", CF, and DD "a non-British citizen […] believed […] to have been associated with the funding and promotion of [terrorism-related activity] in East Africa."[67] At least two British Somalis, Ibrahim Magag[66] (referred to as BX in Court documentation) and Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed,[68] have absconded.

In 2012, it was also reported that the group was attracting an increasing number of non-Somali recent converts from Kenya, a predominantly Christian country in the African Great Lakes region. Estimates in 2014 placed the figure of Kenyan fighters at around 25% of Al-Shabaab's total forces.[69] Referred to as the "Kenyan Mujahideen" by Al-Shabaab's core members,[28] the converts are typically young and overzealous. Poverty has made them easier targets for the group's recruiting activities. The Kenyan insurgents can blend in with the general population of Kenya, and they are often harder to track by law enforcement.[70] Reports suggest that al-Shabaab is attempting to build an even more multi-ethnic generation of fighters in the larger region.[71] One such recent convert, who helped carry out the Kampala bombings but now cooperates with the Kenyan police, believes that the group is trying to use local Kenyans to do its "dirty work" for it, while its own core members escape unscathed.[28] According to diplomats, Muslim areas in coastal Kenya and Tanzania, such as Mombasa and Zanzibar, are especially vulnerable for recruitment.[71]

Foreigners from Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Afghan-trained Somalis, play an important role in the group's leadership ranks owing to their combat experience. Bringing with them specialized skills, these commanders often lead the indoctrination of new recruits, and provide training in remote-controlled roadside bombings, suicide attack techniques, and the assassination and kidnapping of government officials, journalists, humanitarian and civil society workers.[25]

Foreign al-Shabaab commanders include:[72]

Foreign leaders and members:

Jehad Serwan Mostafa ("Emir Anwar"), a senior Al-Shabaab commander and trainer.
  • Fazul Abdullah Mohammed: Mohammed, a Kenyan national, was appointed by Osama bin Laden as Al-Qaeda's leader in East Africa in late 2009. Before the death of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, Mohammed served as the military operations chief for Al-Qaeda in the region. He was an experienced militant commander who was known to be able to cross national borders with ease. In August 2008, he eluded a police dragnet in Kenya. Mohammed had been hiding in Somalia with Shabaab and the Islamic Courts for years. Mohammed was considered Al-Shabaab's military leader, while Muktar Abdelrahman Abu Zubeyr was Al-Shabaab's spiritual leader. He was killed on June 8, 2011.[73]
  • Jehad Serwan Mostafa (alias "Ahmed Gurey", "Anwar al-Amriki" and "Emir Anwar"): a US-born senior Al-Shabaab commander. In charge of various functions for the militant group, including serving as a leader for foreign fighters within the organization as well as training insurgents. Fluent in English, Somali and Arabic, he is also a media specialist.[74]
  • Shaykh Muhammad Abu Fa'id: Fai'd, a Saudi citizen, serves as a top financier and a "manager" for Shabaab.
  • Abu Musa Mombasa: Mombasa, a Pakistani citizen, serves as Shabaab's chief of security and training.
  • Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki: Amriki, whose real name was Omar Hammami, was a U.S. citizen who converted to Islam and traveled to Somalia in 2006. Once in Somalia, he quickly rose through the ranks. He served as a military commander, recruiter, financier, and propagandist. Amriki appeared in several Shabaab propaganda tapes. He became a primary recruiter for Al Shabaab; issued written statements on their behalf and appeared in its propaganda videos and audio recordings. An indictment unsealed in August 2010 charged him with providing material support to terrorists.[75] In January 2013, Amriki was ousted from al-Shabaab because it felt he had joined in a "narcissistic pursuit of fame". He then publicly voiced ideological differences with the group via YouTube and Twitter, asserting that local militant leaders were only concerned with fighting in Somalia and not globally. He was assassinated by the insurgents in September 2013.[76] He was removed from the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list in November 2013.[77] He was removed from the US State Department's Rewards for Justice list in January 2014.[78]
Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir ("Ikrima"), a senior Al-Shabaab regional commander.
  • Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir ("Ikrima"): a Kenya-born Somali Al-Shabaab commander alleged by the Kenyan government to have planned several attacks in the country, including a plot to target the UN's bureau in Nairobi, the Kenyan parliamentary building, and an Ethiopian restaurant patronized by Somali government representatives. According to US officials, Abdulkadir was also a close associate of the late Al-Qaeda operatives Harun Fazul and Saleh Nabhan.[79][80]
  • Mahmud Mujajir: Mujajir, a Sudanese citizen, is Shabaab's chief of recruitment for suicide bombers.
  • Samantha Lewthwaite: Allegedly an Al-Shabaab member, she is believed to have been behind an attack on a sports bar in Mombasa in 2012. Widow of 7/7 suicide bomber Germaine Lindsay.
  • Issa Osman Issa: Issa serves as a top al-Qaeda recruiter and military strategist for Shabaab. Before joining, he participated in the simultaneous attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. He has been described as a central player in the simultaneous attacks on the Paradise Hotel in Kikambala, Kenya, in 2002, and the attempt that year to down an Israeli airliner in Mombasa.[81][82]
  • Mohamed Mohamud, also known as Sheikh Dulayadayn, Gamadhere or Mohamed Kuno, a Kenyan citizen of Somali origin who served as a commander of Al-Shabaab operations in Kenya. Named by the Kenyan government as the mastermind behind the Garissa University College attack.[83][84] He was killed alongside 16 other militants in an overnight raid by Somali forces on June 1, 2016.[85]

Sociological Analysis of Kenyan Recruits to al-Shabaab

In the present consideration of al-Shabaab recruitment practices in Kenya and sociological analysis thereof, terrorism shall be defined as: a focused attack on un-armed non-combatants to inspire fear with a political aim. The following establishes a sociological explanation for the descriptive realities of Kenyan nationals’ recruitment into the al-Shabaab terrorist organization in Somalia. This section will use as primary texts Anneli Botha’s illuminating study of political socialization and radicalization of Kenyan nationals and their recruitment into al-Shabaab, and the theory of Pierre Bourdieu (focusing specifically on Bourdieu’s theory of habitus, field, and cultural and symbolic capital) as an analytical framework for interpreting the recruitment phenomena.

The French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has created a theory, pertaining to his larger theory of Practice, called habitus. Bourdieu’s habitus is “a set of dispositions which incline agents to act and react in certain ways. The dispositions generate practices, perceptions and attitudes which are ‘regular’ without being consciously co-ordinated or governed by any ‘rule’. The dispositions which constitute the habitus are inculcated, structured, durable, generative and transposable…” [86] Inculcation refers to early childhood experiences such as the primary socializing impact of family and peers noted below in Botha’s work. The structuration of these dispositions occurs reflective of the social conditions within which they were inculcated. When individuals act, they do so in contexts. Dispositions of habitus is durable in the sense that they are fully ingrained in the body and persist despite contingencies. Dispositions of habitus are generative and transposable in that they are performative and fluid. However, when individuals act they do so in an irreducible setting: “particular practices or perceptions should be seen, not as the product of the habitus as such, but as the product of the relation between the habitus, on the one hand, and the specific social contexts or ‘fields’ within which individuals act, on the other. “Fields” are structured spaces of a variety of positions and interrelations defined by sort of capital and “there are different forms of capital: not only ‘economic’ capital in the strict sense, but also cultural capital (i.e. knowledge, skills, and other cultural acquisitions, as exemplified by educational or technical qualities), ‘symbolic capital’ (i.e. accumulated prestige or honour) and so on.” [86] Bourdieu’s conception of “capital” allows for a fluidity of capital that is interchangeable based on the difference interests individuals have.

Interpreting Bourdieu, the habitus is the personally reflexively formative characteristics of an individual situated in a specific social location/class. Capital (and it is important to note that Bourdieu implies economic, cultural and symbolic capital as three distinct, yet mutually important types of capital) which is extended and acquired among people interacting in a particular field (social environment). These two elements of Bourdieu’s theory of Practice account for the descriptive qualities of people and groups as well as accounts for situated motivation. These two tenets of Bourdieu’s work will help to offer a sociological explanation as to the sort of Kenyan who is successfully recruited to al-Shabaab and what motivations factor in why they chose to assent to the ideology and practice of al-Shabaab.

Anneli Botha’s helpful study of Kenyan-nationals turned al-Shabaab recruit entitled “Political Socialization and Terrorist Radicalization among Individuals Who Joined Al-Shabaab in Kenya” addresses personal and environmental factors that contribute to the recruitment of al-Shabaab fighters in Kenya. Beginning with a theoretical orientation, Botha defines socialization in general as “… the process by which children, born with an enormous potential for different types of behavior, come to adopt the specific standards of their own society” and political socialization in specific as “a lifelong process through which a person develops a unique frame of reference that guides individual choices with respect to politics… Ultimately, the political self is made, not born…”[87] Of the factors that are most important to the political socialization of boys is the father. Botham reports that for males, when respondents are asked as to which parent had taken the lead for making household/family rules, who had punished and what the type of punishment was, the father played the dominant role in political socialization in the household: “In families where both parents were present (82 percent of respondents), the father made the rules in 100 percent of the cases… where the father was absent the mother made the rules in the house in only three cases, while a male relative made the rules most of the time.” [87] Yet, as important as the parent’s role in the political socialization is, interestingly, “the parents of al-Shabaab respondents played a lesser role in transferring their political orientations through socialization to their children. Instead of parental influence, peers/friends played a more active role in the political socialization of respondents…”.[87] In Botha’s study, respondents who were recruited by al-Shabaab identified the role of the father as the primary familial factor in their political socialization, but friends/peer groups were the dominant social relationship that became determinative of recruitment.

Radicalization is “a process in which the group has been mobilized in pursuit of a social or political objective but has failed to make enough progress toward the objective to satisfy all activists. Some become discouraged, while others intensify their efforts, lose patience with conventional means of political action, and look for tactics that will have greater impact. This is the kind of situation in which modelling or imitative behavior occurs. Impatience and frustration provide an expressive motivation (anger) and rationalistic grounds (dramatic episodes of violence elsewhere) that make it likely that some activists will decide to experiment with terror tactics. The choice is made, and justified, as a means to the original ends of radical reform, group autonomy, or whatever. Ant the dynamics of the process are such that the terrorists believe that they enjoy the support of some larger community in revolt.” [87] Botha argues that radicalization is a result of an ongoing, incremental formative process, and “rarely a conscious decision is made to become a terrorist.” [87] Thus, radicalization is the outcome of a “dialectical process that gradually pushes an individual toward a commitment to violence over time.” [87] While “external (domestic and international circumstances) and internal (personal interpretation of external environment based on psychological considerations) factors” impact political socialization… conducive conditions to terrorism [otherwise known as] push factors… include: political circumstances, including poor governance, political exclusion, lack of civil liberties, and human rights abuse; economic circumstances; sociological circumstances with reference to religious and ethnic discrimination; counterterrorism and its impact; and perceived injustice and international circumstances.”[87]

Family and peer relationships have important formative effects on the political socialization of an individual because they contribute to the individual’s social identity. However, an aspect of one’s self-concept derives from one’s knowledge of his or her membership in social groups together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership,” which gives rise to the collective identity.[87] The collective identity is “the set of culture traits, social traits, values, beliefs, myths, symbols, images that go into the collective’s self-definition… [the collective identity] has five functions: confirming that the person belongs to a particular place in society; it also provides distinctive characteristics to identify others who do not share the person’s place in society. Collective identity also ensures respect from those sharing that person’s position, leading to self-respect or self-esteem in providing understanding or meaning of the social world the person is part of. Lastly, collective identity provides solidarity with others and reminds the individual that he/she is not alone.” [87] The collective identity, additionally, tells an individual who is “in” and who is “out” of the group. Solidarity among members of the group require a shared symbolic capital and would lose their distinctiveness otherwise.

Botha’s research bears out the importance of collective identity on al-Shabaab recruits: “55 percent rated their sense of belonging while joining al-Shabaab between 5 and 10. When asked to rate their sense of belonging while being members of al-Shabaab, 87 percent rated their sense of belonging between 5 and 10 while being members.”[87] Similarly, 68% respondents defined “us” as al-Shabaab members, 32 percent referred to Muslims and zero included “Kenyan Nationals” as a part of “us”. Similarly, when Botha examines respondents’ religious preferences, views towards the “other”, threat the respondent’s community faces and the type of threat, a sociological rift emerges between respondents and their society. Among Botha’s respondents “73 percent of al-Shabaab respondents indicated that they ‘hated’ other religions, 69 percent can remember being discriminated against; 83 percent felt that they could not practice their religious beliefs freely; 97 percent of al-Shabaab respondents consider their religion to be under threat, 60 percent of which classified the threat type as physical, while 34 percent regarded it as ideological and 6 percent claiming it was both types of threat… 49 percent of al-Shabaab respondents claimed the threat came from the governments, 24 percent suggested the threat was another religion, 18 percent claimed it was an external enemy and 9 percent said the threat stems from a combination of government and others. When asked to define the intensity of this ‘conflict’ 74 percent of respondents classified it as ‘on-going’ and 26 percent as ‘all-out war’.”[87] According to these perceptions, respondents feel that Muslims are treated as a sub-ordinate class within Kenya. Similarly, 68 percent of al-Shabaab respondents reported to discuss politics and 39 percent voted in elections prior to joining al-Shabaab, only 1 percent reported trusting politicians, and only 4 percent reported believing that elections bring change; 72 percent of al-Shabaab respondents reported believing that elections are not free and fair, 28 percent reported not recognizing the political process, nearly all respondents (99 percent) reported that the government only protects the interests of a few and 96 percent of respondents agreed with the statement “standing up against government is legal and just.”[87]

Al-Shabaab’s religious identity stems from Wahhabi Islam since the beginning of a massive growth of Wahhabism in Kenya in the 1980’s.[87] Botha elaborates upon the process of making recruits and spreading Wahhabis influence: “Kenya witnessed the rapid growth and spread of Wahaabi Islam after the return of the Muslim students who went for religious studies in Saudi Arabia. Through Middle Eastern financial assistance and the influx of imams and scholars from Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, this ‘takeover’ strategy of extremists are gradual. This strategy often starts with individuals within some mosques and smaller religious groups with the sole responsibility to identify regular visitors to the mosque and approach them with the intention of recruiting them to attend their ‘classes.’ This is where new recruits undergo indoctrination though lectures presented by different scholars who subscribe to the Salafist doctrine. Through this strategy, extremists associated with al-Shabaab have also established cells in institutions of higher learning, particularly universities, and have also penetrated professional bodies and online discussion groups. This has led to the mushrooming of purely religious online discussions in Kenya and the East African region—the main topic being an attempt to show that certain Islamic schools of thought are wring and not worth following. They also discuss socioeconomic issues, lack of opportunities for the ever-growing youth population, ‘injustices’ and political marginalization meted out against Muslims by authorities, and engage broadly on the global jihadi discourses.”[87]

Two final considerations that are important to understanding the formative outcomes of al-Shabaab recruits include education level and age at the time of recruitment. Education provides a variety of tangible and intangible mitigating factors to one’s proclivity to radicalize. Botha writes, “in the first instance, a better-educated individual tends to participate more in conventional politics for the following reasons: Individuals that have been better educated feel that they can influence the political process more than a less educated person, especially considering that an educated person is also able to articulate opinions better. Secondly, the person is more aware of the impact of government on the individual. Having more information, this person is expected to have opinions on a wider range of political topics. Furthermore, the person is more likely to engage in political discussions with a wider range of people, while those with less education are more likely to report that there are many people with whom they avoid such discussions. Lastly, the more educated individual is also more likely to express confidence in the political process and is more likely to be an active member of a legitimate political organization.”[87] According to Botha, among al-Shabaab respondents, 47 percent attended primary school, 45 percent secondary school and only 8 percent of respondents reported any education beyond secondary school. Furthermore, 56 percent of respondents left school between “15 and 19 years of age, followed by 33 percent who left school between 20-24 years of age.”[87] Ultimately, Botha concludes that “it could then be argued that the defense against radicalization is not education per se, but rather the quality and type of education. While education is essential in ensuring a better future, students also need to learn from other disciplines, such as social sciences, history, and philosophy to equip them to be open to other opinions, to argue intellectually and to understand domestic and international realities.”[87]

Another important factor to radicalization included age of recruitment. 57 percent of al-Shabaab respondents were recruited between the ages of 10 and 24; 21 percent joined between ages 25–29; 20 percent joined between the ages of 30-35; and only 2 percent were older than 40 years of age.[87] Interestingly, and in keeping with the name of the organization “the Youth”, al-Shabaab accrues most of its recruits from adolescent to late-adolescent populations at which point an individual is most malleable and impressionable since at these ages one is beginning to individuate themselves as a political self and develop a sense of a worldview that “influence how individuals perceive, interpret, and respond to their social and interpersonal environments.” [87] Botha goes on to interpret these outcomes: “This would imply that the youth is particularly vulnerable to radicalization for two primary reasons: Impatience of the youth and more willing to change the political system—if necessary, through the use of violence. Instead of accommodation or manipulation (the favorite political tactics of the older generation), the youth favor confrontation. In contrast to early adulthood, two changes appear between the ages of 25-30: involvement with more extreme or at least unorthodox movements and/or ideologies abates, but participation in more conventional politics increases.”[87] The conditions that Botha demonstrates as contingent to an individual’s recruitment into al-Shabaab, including habitus formation in terms of primary and secondary socialization factors (family, school, peers, groups, media and political experiences), reveal the dearth of economic, cultural, and symbolic capital that al-Shabaab recruits are likely to exhibit prior to recruitment and terroristic activity. The habitus, which is the set of dispositions that incline agents to act and react in certain ways, that is reflexively formed by and around developing al-Shabaab recruits tends to inform an agent (on average) who reacts most naturally to a strong male leadership figure, makes important choices faithful to the context of a peer community, is educated at the secondary level or less, is Muslim and is likely to be less than 24 years old. The profile of the typical Kenyan national recruit to al-Shabaab. Therefore, demonstrates a disposition toward male leadership as such one will encounter in the form of religious figures/recruiters and al-Shabaab organizational heads, who is likely to influence and be influenced by one’s peer group, possess a dearth of economic, and cultural capital as a result of under/unemployment and a maximum secondary level of education. Perhaps what is most important about the set of dispositions of the average al-Shabaab recruit is the impulsivity, impatience, and likelihood to resort to violence in order to solve conflicts common of the developmental age. Also, given the youth and relative lack of education, the al-Shabaab recruit population is also characteristically low in economic, cultural and symbolic capital, which means that this population has little felt means to solve social conflict without giving themselves over to terroristic violence. But this cannot be the whole story as Botha has emphasized the dominant “in-group’ role of religious ideology to recruitment of al-Shabaab fighters. The dynamism of this in-group and recruit interaction if the perceived promise of the recruit’s empowerment in the form of symbolic and cultural capital. But the religious aspect of recruitment demonstrates an especially rich exposure to the recruits perceived capital.

The emergence of Wahhabi Islamic ideology in Kenya over the past three decades has created a new scheme of habitus which allows for greater cultural and symbolic capital than previously Shafi’i school of Sunni-dominated Islamic ideology made possible. The increase in cultural and symbolic capital Wahhabism creates in Kenya, which is then exploited by al-Shabaab recruiters, is explained by the connection it creates to al-Qaeda. Arguably the most internationally powerful and prolific terroristic organization over the past 3 decades, al-Qaeda has cultivated cultural and symbolic capital (not to mention economic) resulting from a variety of successful terroristic acts, perhaps most notably the destruction of the World Trade Center Towers in 2001. Successful terrorist acts have elevated al-Qaeda as a first-tier terrorist organization, which grants the organization symbolic capital that others might benefit from by association. Kenyan national al-Shabaab recruits join most commonly out of a sense of religious obligation or affinity. Furthermore, Kenyan nationals who join al-Shabaab are granted cultural capital in that they are indoctrinated with Wahhabist ideology, thereby learning linguistic forms appropriate to an exalted form of Islam. This ‘educational’ exchange grants the recruit a measure of symbolic capital because the recruit can now sound like his teachers. Being able to espouse Wahhabist theology, the vogue theology of Islamic terrorism at present, provides a sense of not only belonging but of cultural capital that is a kin to what formal education can grant a person in the Western world. Similarly, The Wahhabism indicative of al-Shabaab, links the group with Al-Qaeda theologically, which similarly grants the organization and recruits as sense of symbolic capital that results from being so closely aligned with the more prolific terrorist brand. Connections with al-Qaeda extend the symbolic filed of battle for al-Shabaab militants beyond the Horn of Africa, placing it in central Asia, suburbs and European urban centers, and in Lower Manhattan. Bourdieu’s theory of habitus and capital enable a compelling interpretive framework through which one may reconsider the phenomenon of the recruitment of Kenyan nationals by al-Shabaab. Gleaning what we can from Botha’s study, Bourdieu’s theory helps reframe the youthful, poor and undereducated Muslim Kenyan national recruit to al-Shabaab as acting not simply out of economic necessity, but out a depletion of cultural and social capital, without which, one is left to terroristic mechanisms of changing the larger society and one’s place in it.

Terrorist designation

Countries and organizations below have officially listed Al-Shabaab as a terrorist organization.

Country Date References
 Australia 22 August 2009 [88]
 Canada 5 March 2010 [89][90]
 New Zealand 10 February 2010 [91]
 Norway [14]
 United States 29 February 2008 [13]
 United Arab Emirates 15 November 2014 [92]
 United Kingdom March 2010 [93]
 Singapore 18 March 2016 [94]

History and activities

Political situation in Somalia as of April 2017.

While Al-Shabaab previously represented the hard-line militant youth movement within the Islamic Courts Union (ICU),[95] it is now described as an extremist splinter group of the ICU. Since the ICU's downfall, however, the distinction between the youth movement and the so-called successor organization to the ICU, the PRM, appears to have been blurred. Al-Shabaab had recently begun encouraging people from across society, including elders, to join their ranks. In February 2012, Fu'ad Mohamed Khalaf Shongole, the chief of awareness raising of al-Shabaab, said that "At this stage of the jihad, fathers and mothers must send their unmarried girls to fight alongside the (male) militants". The addition of elders and young girls marks a change in the movement, which had previously involved only men, particularly young boys.[96]

Their core consisted of veterans who had fought and defeated the secular Mogadishu faction leaders of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) at the Second Battle of Mogadishu. Their origins are not clearly known, but former members say Hizbul Shabaab was founded as early as 2004. The membership of Al-Shabaab also includes various foreign fighters from around the world, according to an Islamic hardliner Mukhtar Robow "Abu Manssor".[97]

In January 2009, Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia and Al-Shabaab carried on its fight against former ally and Islamic Courts Union leader, President Sharif Ahmed, who was the head of the Transitional Federal Government.[98] Al-Shabaab saw some success in its campaigns against the weak Transitional Federal Government, capturing Baidoa, the base of the Transitional Federal Parliament, on January 26, 2009, and killing three ministers of the government in a December 3, 2009 suicide bomb attack on a medical school graduation ceremony.[99]

Before the drought in 2010, Somalia, including the Al-Shabaab controlled areas, had its best crop yield in seven years. Al-Shabaab claimed some credit for the success, saying that their reduction of oversized cheap food imports allowed Somalia's own grain production, which normally has high potential, to flourish.[100] They asserted that this policy had the effect of shifting income from urban to rural areas, from mid-income groups to low-income groups, and from overseas farmers to local farmers. However, in response to the drought, Al-Shabaab announced in July 2011 that it had withdrawn its restrictions on international humanitarian workers.[101]

In 2011, according to the head of the U.N.'s counter-piracy division, Colonel John Steed, Al-Shabaab increasingly sought to cooperate with other criminal organizations and pirate gangs in the face of dwindling funds and resources.[102] Steed, however, acknowledged that he had no definite proof of operational ties between the Islamist militants and the pirates. Detained pirates also indicated to UNODC officials that some measure of cooperation on their part with Al-Shabaab militants was necessary, as they have increasingly launched maritime raids from areas in southern Somalia controlled by the insurgent group. Al-Shabaab members have also extorted the pirates, demanding protection money from them and forcing seized pirate gang leaders in Harardhere to hand over 20% of future ransom proceeds.[103]

Despite routinely expelling, attacking and harassing aid workers, Al-Shabaab permits some agencies to work in areas under its control. At the height of its territorial control it implemented a system of aid agency regulation, taxation and surveillance. Where agencies are allowed to operate, this is often due to the desire of Al-Shabaab to coopt and materially and politically benefit from the provision of aid and services.[104] Senior aid agency representatives often strongly rejected claims that they talked with Al-Shabaab, while aid workers working in Al-Shabaab controlled areas often reported they directly negotiated with the group out of necessity.[105]

Al-Shabaab was known as the most prominent terrorist-organization in Somalia which was succeeded to clear away from the bigger cities of the state by the end of 2013.[106]

While Al-Shabaab has been reduced in power and size since the beginning of the Kenya Army's Operation Linda Nchi southern incursion, the group has continued its efforts at recruitment and territorial control. The group maintains training camps in areas near Kismayo in the southern regions of Somalia. One such camp was constructed in Laanta Bur village near Afgooye, which is also where the former K-50 airport is located.[107] On July 11, 2012, Somali federal troops and their AMISOM allies captured the area from the militants.[108]


The U.S. has asserted that al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda pose a global threat.[109] Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated that "U.S. operations against al-Qaida are now concentrating on key groups in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa."[110]

Complaints made against the group include its attacks on aid workers and harsh enforcement of Sharia law. According to journalist Jon Lee Anderson:

The number of people in Somalia who are dependent on international food aid has tripled since 2007, to an estimated 3.6 million. But there is no permanent foreign expatriate presence in southern Somalia, because the Shabaab has declared war on the UN and on Western non-governmental organizations. International relief supplies are flown or shipped into the country and distributed, wherever possible, through local relief workers. Insurgents routinely attack and murder them, too; forty-two have been killed in the past two years alone.[98]

Shabaab have persecuted Somalia's small Christian minority, sometimes affixing the label on people they suspect of working for Ethiopian intelligence.[111] The group has also desecrated the graves of prominent Sufi Muslims in addition to a Sufi mosque and university, claiming that Sufi practices conflict with their strict interpretation of Islamic law.[112][113] This has led to confrontations with Sufi organized armed groups who have organized under the banner of Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a.[114]

Echoing the transition from a nationalistic struggle to one with religious pretenses, Al Shabaab’s propaganda strategy is starting to reflect this shift. Through their religious rhetoric Al Shabaab attempts to recruit and radicalize potential candidates, demoralize their enemies, and dominate dialogue in both national and international media. According to reports Al Shabaab is trying to intensify the conflict: "It would appear from the alleged AMISOM killings that it is determined to portray the war as an affair between Christians and Muslims to shore up support for its fledgling cause... The bodies, some beheaded, were displayed alongside Bibles and crucifixes. The group usually beheads those who have embraced Christianity or Western ideals. Militants have begun placing beheaded corpses next to bibles and crucifixes in order to intimidate local populations."[115] In April 2010 Al Shabaab announced that it would begin banning radio stations from broadcasting BBC and Voice of America, claiming that they were spreading Christian propaganda. By effectively shutting down the Somali media they gain greater control of the dialog surrounding their activities.[116]


In 2009, Al-Shabaab witnessed a number of its fighters, including several leaders, defect to Somalia's Transitional Federal Government. One such high-profile defection was that in early November 2009 of Sheikh Mohamed Abdullahi (also known as "Sheikh Bakistani"), who commanded the Maymana Brigade. Sheikh Bakistani told Voice of America (VOA) Somali Services that he found the group's suicide missions and executions unbearable. He also indicated that his father, a well-known local religious leader, had visited him several times and helped convince him to defect. However, a spokesman for Al-Shabaab denied that Sheikh Bakistani was a member of the group.[117] During the same month, in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP) in Villa Somalia arranged by the Somali federal government, one former Al-Shabaab fighter reported being disillusioned with the group's direction, indicating that while he began fighting in 2006 "to kick out the Ethiopian invaders", he defected a month ago, "disgusted by the false interpretations Al-Shabaab give of Islam". Similarly, a former Hizbul Islam commander recently defected to the Somali government; one of his family members (another Hizbul Islam commander) had been murdered by Al-Shabaab militants as punishment for having escorted a UN convoy. He said in the VOA interview that "if you don't want to fight anymore, there's no point. That's why I quit".[118] In December 2009, Sheikh Ali Hassan Gheddi, who at the time served as Deputy Commander in-Chief of Al-Shabaab militants in the Middle Shabele region, also defected to the government, indicating that "Al-Shabaab's cruelty against the people is what forced me to defect to the government side. They extort money from the people and deal with them against the teaching of Islam". Another reason he gave for defecting was Al-Shabaab's then prohibition on the UN World Food Programme (WFP) because he felt that it directly affects civilians.[119]

With money from extortion dwindling in areas like Mogadishu,[120] defections in the face of AMISOM forces, among other internal issues, Al-Shabaab is turning to other militant Islamic groups for support. Al Shabaab has declared their support to bolster their numbers, and has made a number of strategic operational ties to both Al Qaeda and AQAP in Yemen. In some cases Al Shabaab has begun flying the Al Qeada-Iraq banner at some of its rallies to demonstrate solidarity with the group. There are signs that Al-Shabaab militants are learning from Al Qaeda's propaganda methods. "Shabaab's propaganda has increasingly been slicked up to resemble messages produced by Al Qaeda's 'As-Sahab' ('The Clouds') media wing and AQAP's Inspire magazine, including the release of rap songs by Omar Hammami."[58] It is unclear how the death of AQAP leader Anwar al-Aulaqi and others has affected this bourgeoning relationship between the two. As is evident by their merger with Hizb-ul-Islam in December 2010, Al-Shabaab is turning to former rivals for assistance as their numbers decrease due to defections and casualties directly resulting from battles with AMISOM forces.[121]

In June 2012, TFG spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman announced that around 500 militants had already defected from Al-Shabaab to fight alongside government forces. He added that the defections were reportedly increasing on a daily basis since TFG forces had captured the strategically important town of Afgooye from the insurgent group. AMISOM spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda similarly indicated that AU commanders were witnessing more defections than at any previous time, a fact he suggested was "a sign al-Shabab is losing cohesion, losing command and control."[122] Al-Shabaab's increasingly strident rules, compounded by extortion, harsh punishments, indiscriminate killings and forced conscription of young men and boys, had also reportedly alienated local residents, encouraging a wave of defections.[123]

On September 5, 2012, a further 200 Al-Shabaab militants and a few senior commanders in Afmadow surrendered to the coalition forces. The defections were interpreted as substantially enhancing the allied offensive since the insurgents could provide details on the Islamist group's combat strategy.[124]

On September 22, 2012, an additional 200 Al-Shabaab insurgents in the town of Garsale near Jowhar surrendered to allied troops. This followed a round of internal battles between rival militants, which left eight of the group's fighters dead, including two top commanders. AMISOM announced in a press statement that it expects the total number of Al-Shabaab defections in the area to reach 250 men.[125]

Since the start of Operation Indian Ocean in August 2014, over 700 Al-Shabaab militants have surrendered to the Federal Government.[126]

On 27 December 2014, a Somali intelligence officer indicated that senior Al-Shabaab commander Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi ("Zaki") surrendered to local police in the southwestern Gedo province. According to the official, Hersi may have turned himself in after having fallen out earlier in the year with other Al-Shabaab members loyal to the group's late leader Godane.[127] On 8 March 2015, the US government officially removed Zaki from its Rewards for Justice List. The decision was reached after negotiations between the Somali federal government and US authorities, which concluded that the former insurgent commander had met the conditions unambiguously establishing that he was no longer associated with the militant group. This in turn came after Zaki had publicly disavowed ties to Al-Shabaab, renounced violence, and fully took part in the peace process.[128]

On 17 January 2015, Luq District Police Commissioner Siyad Abdulkadir Mohamed announced that Sheikh Osman Sheikh Mohamed, the commander of Al-Shabaab's militia in the Luq area, had turned himself in to the federal authorities. The rebel leader likewise reportedly handed over all of his weaponry. According to the police official, further Al-Shabaab members intend to defect. He also indicated that the federal government welcomes all former insurgents who disavow of the use of violence and instead pledge to take part in the peace process.[129]

On 7 March 2015, the Dhusamareeb administration announced that Al-Shabaab landmine expert Abdullahi Mohamed "Madoobe" had surrendered to government forces stationed in the town. According to the local district commissioner Abdirahman Ali Mohamed "Geeda-Qorow" and police commander Abdullahi Garar, the bomb specialist was subsequently put under their protective custody. Garar indicated that Mohamed had also previously trained as a bodyguard. At a press conference, Mohamed concurrently renounced ties with Al-Shabaab, denounced its ideology, and urged young fighters within the militant group to follow suit and defect.[130]

On March 30, Senior Al-Shabaab officer Bashaan Ali Hassan ("Mohamed Ali") turned himself in to Somali National Army officials in Hudur. According to local residents, the militant leader had served in the insurgent group's Bakool and Lower Shabelle province contingents. SNA commander in Bakool Abdirahman Mohamed Osman "Tima-Adde" indicated that the government forces were conducting a probe to ascertain the circumstances surrounding Hassan's surrender. He also hailed the defection as a major setback for Al-Shabaab and its leadership.[131]




"Send me a cruise like Maa’lam Adam al Ansari

And send me a couple of tons like Zarqawi

And send me a drone like Abu Layth al Libi

And Special Forces like Saalih an Nabhani."

"Send me all four and send me much much more

I pray for that on my way to heavens door

Send me four and send me more, that what I implore

An amazing martyrdom I strive for and adore."

— "Send Me A Cruise"
by Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki[132]

Al-Shabaab proliferates their propaganda through various media. It operates its own radio station, Radio Andalus, and has acquired relay stations and seized other equipment from private radio stations, including some from the BBC. Presenters broadcast in Somali, Arabic, Swahili and English.[133] Besides radio, the Internet is the most heavily utilized by Al-Shabaab and other militant Islamic groups such as Al-Qaeda because it is the easiest and most cost-effective way to reach a large audience. As the internet is especially popular with today's youth, organizations such as Al-Shabaab are using online forums and chat rooms to recruit young followers. Al-Shabaab's official website, which has since been taken down, featured posts, videos and official statements in English, Arabic and Somali, as well as online classrooms to educate followers.[134] Prior to its expulsion from Mogadishu in mid-2011, Al-Shabaab had also launched the Al-Kataib propaganda television station the year before. The channel's pilot program aired the confessions of Ahmed Kisi, an alleged CIA spy who had been executed earlier in the week.[135]

In addition, Al-Shabaab also uses music to influence and appeal to young followers. According to Robin Wright, "By 2010, almost eight out of every ten soldiers in Somalia's many rebel forces were children," who are especially influenced and susceptible messages conveyed to modern, western-themed music.[136] One of Al Shabaab's foreign-born leaders, American Omar Hammami a.k.a. Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, gained notoriety after an April 2009 video of him rapping about jihad.[137] Hammami's most recent song, "Send Me a Cruise", debuted online on April 9, 2011.[132]

In October 2013 Al-Shabaab issued a propaganda video targeting several British Muslims who had spoken out against Islamist extremism, some of them explicitly against the murder of Lee Rigby.[138] The video urged jihadists in the UK to follow the example of Rigby's killers, to arm themselves if necessary with knives from B&Q.[138] The Muslims named in the video for "selling out"[139] included Mohammed Shafiq, Mohammed Ansar, Usama Hasan and Ajmal Masroor.[138]

In February 2015, Al-Shabaab released another propaganda video calling for attacks on shopping malls in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., including the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada and the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, U.S.[140] Although the group had hitherto only ever launched attacks within East Africa, security at both malls was tightened in response.[141] The Royal Canadian Mounted Police also indicated that there was no evidence of any imminent threat.[140]

Twitter account[edit]

On December 7, 2011, Al-Shabaab also reportedly began using the Twitter social media network. The move is believed to be an attempt by the group to counteract tweets by allied officials, and to serve as a venue for the dissemination of information on alleged casualties as well as a way to interact with the press.[142] The account, HSMPress, has attracted over eight thousand followers for its witty taunts of the KDF in general and its official spokesman, Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, with whom it has frequent exchanges, in particular.[143]

For example, after Chirchir upbraided the Shabaab for not letting women in the areas under their control wear bras, saying life had more to offer, HSMPress retorted "Like bombing donkeys, you mean!", referring to a recent announcement by Chirchir that any large group of loaded donkeys would be considered a target. "Your eccentric battle strategy has got animal rights groups quite concerned, Major."[144] Later, responding to Chirchir's claim that Kismayo had been captured by the KDF, HSMPress said the Kenyan "boys are a grotesque parody of an army! They can outpace ur world-class runners by far. Indeed, they 'Run like a Kenyan'".[145] The account shows a less belligerent side with others, telling a UN official who queried "it is good when extremists or perceived extremists come out and talk[..] can we have a coffee with them too?" that "a caramel macchiato would do!"[146]

While it is not known for certain if the HSMPress account is sanctioned by the Shabaab, both Western and African Union officials believe that it is. It has relayed information about battle outcomes that has sometimes been more accurate than its opponents, and posted pictures of authentic identity cards of missing AMISOM peacekeepers that were presumably killed in combat. The account itself is operated by a man with the nom de guerre Sheik Yoonis, who has in the past responded to press questions during telephone interviews in a "clipped British accent".[143]

Most of Al-Shabaab's messages on Twitter are in English, with authorities suggesting that they are intended for an outside audience and potential recruits in the West. Officials in the United States, where Twitter is based, are exploring legal ways to terminate the account, although they acknowledge that doing so might raise free speech concerns.[147] Chirchir commented in a tweet of his own that such a move would be counterproductive, as "Al Shabaab needs to be engaged positively and twitter is the only avenue".[148]

In January 2013, Twitter suspended Al-Shabaab's English account.[149][150] This was apparently in response to the account having issued death threats against Frenchman "Denis Allex" and subsequently posted photos of his corpse after the botched Bulo Marer hostage rescue attempt, as well as tweeting threats to kill Kenyan hostages.[150][151] Al-Shabaab later opened a new Twitter account on February 4, 2013.[151] Twitter closed the account again on September 6, 2013 for unspecified reasons. A few days earlier, on September 3, the insurgent group had used the service to claim responsibility for an unsuccessful ambush attempt against a convoy carrying Somalian President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. The militants also tweeted after the attack that the group had no other active Twitter feeds in English, and cautioned users against "parody accounts". The insurgent group also messaged that "next time, you won't be as lucky," in apparent violation of Twitter's user policies against issuing threats of violence and using the service for illicit purposes or activities. However, Al-Shabaab's Arabic account remained open.[150] The group later relaunched its English Twitter account on September 11, 2013.[152]

In September 2013, Twitter suspended at least six Al-Shabaab accounts after the outfit ridiculed the Kenyan government's response to the Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi, an attack Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for. The group later re-opened a Twitter account in December, with the explanation that "the aim is to vigorously challenge defamatory reports in the media by presenting an accurate portrayal of the current state of Jihad in Somalia and countering Western, state-sponsored propaganda machines that are paid to demonise the Mujahideen." A Somali government spokesman stated that the Somali authorities were opposed to Al-Shabaab's presence on the social media website, as the group "should not be given the platform to mislead the youth."[153]


Following the 2011 Eastern Africa drought, Al Shabaab adapted its propaganda strategy to accommodate the changing circumstances. In some cases, group members employed humanitarian aid as a recruitment tool, using relief supplies as bribes and as an incentive to join the militants, whose numbers had decreased due to casualties and defections.[154] Group members dismissed the UN declaration of famine in various regions as grossly exaggerated and banned various organizations from providing aid to those regions.[155]

In response, the Prime Minister of Somalia Abdiweli Mohamed Ali in July 2011 appointed a national committee to tackle the severe drought affecting the southern part of the country,[156] and the following month announced the creation of a new 300-man security force. Assisted by African Union peacekeepers, the military unit had as its primary goal to protect convoys and aid from the Al-Shabaab rebels, as well as to secure the IDP camps when the relief supplies are being distributed.[157]

Although fighting disrupted aid delivery in some areas, a scaling up of relief operations in mid-November prompted the UN to downgrade the humanitarian situation in several regions from famine to emergency levels. Humanitarian access to Al-Shabaab-controlled areas had also improved and rainfall had surpassed expectations, improving the prospects of a good harvest in early 2012.[158] In February 2012, the UN declares that Somalia has produced a bumper harvest, and that the famine is over.[159]

Operation Linda Nchi

The Somali National Army (SNA), Somali Police Force (SPF) and their allies have intensified security operations against Al-Shabaab.

Since the TFG-led Operation Linda Nchi between the Somalian National Army (SNA) and the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) against Al-Shabaab militants in southern Somalia began,[160] Al Shabaab has been intensifying its propaganda effort – a signal perhaps that militant forces is growing desperate as it suffers heavy losses. Group members have started to diversify their tactics, using various methods to demoralize the allied forces. According to the Associated Press, Al Shabaab has resorted to dressing up some of its own casualties in TFG and AU uniforms, although an African Union spokesman indicated that only two corpses of AU soldiers were unaccounted for. About half of the dead bodies were also visibly Somali, prompting eyewitnesses to suggest that they were fallen Somali government soldiers. The remainder were dressed in Burundi military uniforms and resembled non-Somali foreigners, with Al-Shabaab militants displaying a Bible and some crucifixes reportedly taken from the deceased.[161] Additionally, Al-Shabaab has been conducting militia parades as a show of force in cities such as Marka.[162]

As Al Shabaab is suffering heavy military losses, the effectiveness of their propaganda campaign to date is somewhat inconclusive. What is apparent, however, is that they are increasing their propaganda efforts without corresponding response from TFG, AMISOM and KDF forces. Al-Shabaab retreats from regions in southern Somalia and areas around Mogadishu are falsely heralded as tactical maneuvers by the militants who are facing defeat – while the allied forces remain largely muted on the success that they have made in the region.[163]

The propaganda techniques employed by Al-Shabaab show the stark contrast between militant forces and the conventional armies of AMISOM. While Shabaab forces act with impunity in regards to their guerrilla tactics, the allied forces are obligated to comply with articles of the Geneva Convention that require them to warn civilians of air raids and troop movements – oftentimes informing the very militants they intend to strike and leaving them unable to act when they observe flagrant militant activities.[164] According to Al-Jazeera, Al-Shabaab have also attempted to capitalize on the coordinated incursion by depicting itself as a resistance force fighting foreign occupiers and urged local residents to take up arms against the Kenyan soldiers.[165]

Relations with other militant groups


On February 9, 2012, Mukhtar Abu al-Zubair 'Godane' announced in a fifteen-minute video message that Al-Shabaab would be joining the militant Islamist organization al-Qaeda, under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Zubair stated, "On behalf of the soldiers and the commanders in al-Shabaab, we pledge allegiance to you. So lead us to the path of jihad and martyrdom that was drawn by our imam, the martyr Osama."[7] Al-Zawahiri approved and welcomed Al-Shabaab as al-Qaeda's Somalia-based affiliate in a 15-minute video response, stating "Today, I have glad tidings for the Muslim Ummah that will please the believers and disturb the disbelievers, which is the joining of the Shabaab al-Mujahideen Movement in Somalia to Qaeda al-Jihad, to support the jihadi unity against the Zio-Crusader campaign and their assistants amongst the treacherous agent rulers."[166] The merger follows reports about a rift in the leadership,[167] and it coincides with reports about large factions breaking away from Al Shabaab,[168] and up to 500 Al Shabaab fighters fleeing or leaving southern Somalia for Yemen,[169] where a full Al Qaeda branch AQAP is stepping up operations, under perceived increased military pressure since a new president took office.[170] Somalia's Transitional Federal Government officially recognized the two Islamist groups as one group.[171]

A poll conducted between 8–16 April 2012 by the international market research company YouGov examined the views of MENA region residents with regard to the news of the merger. The combined group evoked fear in most respondents, with 42% believing that the merger announcement ought to be a source of alarm for the international community; 23% of polltakers felt very strongly about this. 45% of respondents believed that the fusion of the two groups would enhance Al-Qaeda's attempts at recruiting new operatives, with 12% indicating that the merger would strengthen the latter group's capabilities and another 11% believing that it would result in more terrorist attacks on the continent. A further 55% of pollsters did not know how the Somalian leadership would respond to news of the merger, though 36% suggested that it would lead to more movements against Al-Shabaab by the Somalian military. 34% of respondents also indicated that announcement of the merger constituted a propaganda effort aimed at securing more coverage for the two Islamist groups, with 30% of polltakers believing that the decision to merge shows that both Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda are under duress.[172]

In response to Godane's announced name change and merger with al-Qaeda, all other Shabaab top leaders called a conference in Baidabo.[173] They refused to adopt the new name (al-Qaeda in East Africa) and they agreed on a new policy, focusing entirely on domestic issues and with no mention any more of international struggle. One significant policy proposal was to form a national, independent Shura of Islamic clerics, which means also independent of al-Qaeda. With it, they seem to try to remove some obstacles for reaching an entente with their Sufi opponents, and to avoid getting targeted by US drones.[174][175] Aweys later declared that: "Al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda are merely a small part of the larger Islamic group and al-Qaeda's ideology should not be viewed as the sole, righteous path for Islam."[176]

This open revolt against al-Qaeda made it more likely that Al-Shabaab would slowly become ready for some sort of negotiated entente.[177] On February 23, 2012, while Shabaab was pushed out of several strongholds, Radio Magadishu reported that 120 al-Qaeda leaders and followers fled from Kismayo to Yemen.[178] Aweys was appointed military commander of Kismayo and the south.[179]

By 2013, the internal rifts within Al-Shabaab erupted into all-out warfare between Godane's faction and those of other leaders in the organization. In late June, four senior Shabaab commanders were executed under the orders of Godane. One of these commanders was Ibrahim al-Afghani, who had complained about the leadership style of Godane in a letter to Ayman al-Zawahiri. Sixteen others were arrested, and Aweys fled.[180] He was later taken into custody in Mogadishu by Somali government forces.[181] On 12 September, Omar Hammami, who had left the group due to significant disagreements with Godane, was killed by Al-Shabaab forces. The Westgate shopping mall shooting in September was said by Simon Tisdall to be a reflection of the power struggle within the insurgent group, with Godane's hardline global jihadi faction seeking to exert its authority.[182]

AQIM and Boko Haram

According to U.S. Army General Carter Ham, Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Nigeria-based Boko Haram (BH) were as of June 2012 attempting to synchronize and coordinate their activities in terms of sharing funds, training and explosives.[183] Ham added that he believed that the collaboration presented a threat to both U.S. homeland security and the local authorities.[184] However, according to counter-terrorism specialist Rick Nelson with the Washington-based Center for Strategic International Studies, there was little evidence that the three groups were targeting U.S. areas, as each was primarily interested in establishing fundamentalist administrations in their respective regions.[183] In May 2014, Senior Al-Shabab member Fuad Shongole stated that al-Shabab fighters would carry out jihad, or holy war, in Kenya and Uganda "and afterward, with God's will, to America."[185]

Hizbul Islam

On September 24, 2012, Hizbul Islam spokesman Mohamed Moallim announced that his group was discontinuing its association with Al-Shabaab, a group that he asserted his organization had only nominally united with. Moallim cited the significant political changes happening in Somalia as well as Al-Shabaab's reported issuance of propaganda against Hizbul Islam as the primary reasons for his group's decision to leave the coalition. He added that his organization did not share Al-Shabaab's political philosophy, and that he felt the militant group had been considerably "weakened". Moallim also indicated that Hizbul Islam was open to talks with any political actors in the country working for a common good.[186][187]

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Starting in early 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) released a series of videos online aimed at al-Shabaab, calling on the group to switch allegiances from al-Qaeda to ISIL’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.[188] By September 2015, Al-Shabab issued an internal memo aimed at pro-ISIL elements in its ranks, stating that the group’s policy is to continue its allegiance to al-Qaida, and banned any discussion relating to ISIL. The group also detained some of its fighters who had voiced support for ISIL.[189]

In October 2015, senior al-Shabaab commander Abdul Qadir Mumin and approximately 20 of his followers in the Puntland region pledged allegiance to ISIL.[190] Further defections in al-Shabaab ranks occurred in the border region between Somalia and Northern Kenya.[191] In November 2015, a pro-ISIL commander called Hussein Abdi Gedi was ambushed and killed, and at least 9 al-Shabaab fighters were killed in fighting between the two factions. The head of al-Shabab in the Lower Shabelle region, Abu Abdalla, gave an interview in which he said that all pro-ISIL members should leave the group or be killed.[192]


In 2012, the United States government began a new policy of offering financial rewards in exchange for information as to the whereabouts of Al-Shabaab members. On June 7, the U.S. Department of State put forth an offer totaling $33 million for the capture of seven of Al-Shabaab's senior commanders,[193] including a reported $3–$7 million (£2–£4.5 million) per leader.[15] $7 million of the total funds were set aside for information regarding the insurgent group's Amir or Spiritual Leader, Ahmed Godane (Abu Zubayr), with another $5 million bounty on Al-Shabaab's Deputy Leader, Mukhtar Robow (Abu Mansur).[193] Additionally, a $3 million bounty was reserved for the senior commander Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi.[127]

On June 8, Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) released an official statement expressing support for the initiative.[193]

In response, senior Al-Shabaab commander Fu'ad Mohamed Khalaf (Sheikh Shongole) issued a mock offer of his own the same day, promising 10 camels to anyone possessing information on U.S. President Barack Obama. Shongole also mockingly offered a less valuable bounty of 10 cocks and 10 hens for information concerning American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.[193]

During an official state visit to Mogadishu, top U.S. envoy Johnnie Carson dismissed Al-Shabaab's counter-offer as "absurd". He also indicated that the American government would impose sanctions on anyone attempting to thwart the ongoing political process, including invoking visa and travel bans and freezing assets.[15]

On March 21, 2013, the U.S. Department of State announced another bounty of $5 million apiece for information on two American senior Al-Shabaab commanders, Abu Mansour al-Amriki (Omar Shafik Hammami) and Jehad Serwan Mostafa.[194]

On March 15, 2014, the U.S. Department of State also began offering bounties of up to $3 million apiece for information leading to the arrest or conviction of the Al-Shabaab senior members Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, Yasin Kilwe and Jafar. According to State Department officials, Abdikadir coordinates Al-Shabaab's recruitment activities in Kenya, with Jafar acting as his deputy; Kilwe serves as Al-Shabaab's Emir for the northeastern Puntland region. The bounties are part of the "Rewards for Justice" program, wherein money is issued for leads on terror suspects.[195]

On September 27, 2014, the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) offered a $2 million reward to any individual who provides information leading to the arrest of the new Al-Shabaab leader, Ahmed Omar Abu Ubeyda. According to the NISA Commander Abdirahman Mohamed Turyare, a separate $1 million would be rewarded to any person who supplies information that could result in the killing of Ubeyda. Turyare also pledged that the informers' identities would be kept private. This is reportedly the first time that a Somalia security official is offering such large dead-or-alive bounties on an Al-Shabaab leader.[196]

On April 3, 2015, the Kenyan government offered a 20 million Kenyan shillings ($215,000) reward for the arrest of Mohamed Mohamud, who serves as a commander of Al-Shabaab operations in Kenya.[83]

On April 10, 2015, the Federal Government of Somalia offered a $250,000 reward for the capture of Al-Shabaab commander Ahmed Diriye. It also placed bounties of between $100,000 to $150,000 for information on the whereabouts or leading to the arrest of several other of the militant group's leaders, including Mahad Warsame Galay (Mahad Karate), Ali Mohamed Raage (Ali Dhere), Abdullahi Abdi (Daud Suheyb), Mohamed Mohamud Noor “Sultan”, Ali Mohamed Hussein (Ali Jeesto), Mohamed Mohamud (Gama-Dhere), Hassan Mohamed Afgoye, Mohamed Abdi Muse Mohamed, Yasin Osman Kilwa and Abdullahi Osman. Additionally, the federal government indicated that any leads forwarded to it vis-a-vis the wanted insurgent commanders would be kept strictly confidential.[197]

Support allegations


In December 2009, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea, accusing the Horn of Africa country of arming and providing financial aid to militia groups in southern Somalia's conflict zones, including al-Shabaab.[198] Plane loads of weapons said to be coming from Eritrea were sent to anti-government rebels in southern Somalia. AU peacekeepers also reportedly captured some Eritrean soldiers and prisoners of war.[199][200] In 2010, the UN International Monitoring Group (IMG) also published a report charging the Eritrean government of continuing to offer support to rebel groups in southern Somalia, despite the sanctions already placed on the nation. The Eritrean administration emphatically denied the accusations, describing them as "concocted, baseless and unfounded" and demanding concrete evidence to be made publicly available, with an independent platform through which it may in turn issue a response.[198] In November 2011 the UN Monitoring Group repeated claims that Eritrea would support al-Shabaab. The report says that Eritrea gives US$80,000 each month to al-Shabaab linked individuals in Nairobi.[201]

On July 5, 2012 the Obama administration announced sanctions on Eritrea's intelligence chief and on a high-ranking military officer related to allegations of their support of Al-Shabaab. Col. Tewolde Habte Negash is accused of providing training and support while Col. Taeme Abraham Goitom is alleged to organize armed opposition to the Somalian government. The sanctions freeze any of the individual's U.S. assets and prohibits Americans from conducting business with them.[202] On July 16, 2012, a United Nations Monitoring Group report stated that "it had found no evidence of direct Eritrean support for al Shabaab in the past year."[203]


In 2010, reports surfaced linking the secessionist government of the northwestern Somaliland region with the Islamist extremists that are currently waging war against the Transitional Federal Government and its African Union allies. The International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) published several reports shortly after the 2010 presidential elections in Somaliland, accusing the enclave's newly elected president Ahmed M. Mahamoud Silanyo of having strong ties with Islamist groups, and suggesting that his political party Kulmiye won the election in large part due to support from a broad-based network of Islamists, including al-Shabaab.[204] The ISSA also described Dr. Mohamed Abdi Gaboose, Somaliland's new Interior Minister, as an Islamist with "strong personal connections with al-Shabaab", and predicted that the militant group would consequently be empowered.[205]

In January 2011, Puntland accused Somaliland of providing a safe haven for Mohamed Said Atom, an arms smuggler believed to be allied with al-Shabaab. Somaliland strenuously denied the charges, calling them a smokescreen to divert attention from Puntland's own activities.

Atom and his men were reportedly hiding out and receiving medical attention in Somaliland after being pursued by Puntland forces in late 2010.[206] The Puntland Intelligence Agency also claimed that over 70 Somaliland soldiers had fought alongside Atom's militiamen, including one known intelligence official who died in battle.[207] Somaliland media reported in January that Atom's representative requested military assistance from the Somaliland authorities, and that he denied that Atom's militia was linked to al-Shabaab.[208]

Puntland government documents claim that Atom's militia were used as proxy agents in 2006. They accuse Somaliland of offering financial and military assistance to destabilize Puntland and distract attention from attempts to occupy the disputed Sool province.[206]

Kenyan forces have been working hand in hand to fight the war against al-Shabaab in the region. The total death toll on al-Shabaab is 1,392 since 2015.[209]

Four US immigrants from Somalia

In 2013, 4 immigrants and refugees to the US from Somalia were convicted of conspiring to raise money for al-Shabaab. They were Basally Saeed Moalin, a cabdriver from San Diego, California, Issa Doreh, a worker at a money transmitting business, Mohamed Mohamed Mohamud, an imam at a mosque with a largely Somali congregation, and Ahmed Nasiri Taalil Mohamud, a cab driver from Anaheim, California.[210] They were accused of sending thousands of dollars to al-Shabaab. They argued in their defense that they were not sending money to al-Shabaab, but to a their local homes to build orphanages and schools. The person they were coordinating with was not an al-Shabaab commander, but local police chief that needed funds for a local militia to fight Ethiopian forces that were siding with the Somali government. As of November 2016, the defendants were appealing their case on the grounds that their phone calls were captured as part of an over reaching mass wiretapping of American phone calls done by the National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA program was stopped after leaks by Edward Snowden revealed its existence.[211]

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