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Al-Shabaab (Somalia)

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Al-Shabaab (Somalia)

This article is about the Somalia-based militant group. For other uses, see Al-Shabab (disambiguation).

Al-Shabaab
الشباب
Participant in Somali Civil War

Administration flag
Active 2006 – present
Ideology Sunni Islamism
Salafist jihadism
Anti-Sufism
Strict Sharia
Takfir
Groups Multi-ethnic[1]
Leaders Ahmed Godane (May 2009 – Dec 2010; Dec 2011 –)
Ibrahim Haji Jama Mee'aad (Dec 2010 – Dec 2011)
Sheikh Mukhtar Robow (May 2008 – May 2009)
Aden Hashi Farah (2002 – May 2008)
Headquarters Kismayo (22 August 2008 – 29 September 2012)
Barawe[2]
Area of
operations
Somalia
Uganda
Kenya
Strength 4,000–6,000 militants[3]
Originated as Islamic Courts Union (ICU)
Allies  al-Qaeda
Foreign Mujahedeen
Opponents

Somalia Somalia

 Ethiopia
AMISOM

 Australia

 United States

Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM) (Arabic: حركة الشباب المجاهدين‎; Ḥarakat ash-Shabāb al-Mujāhidīn, Somali: Xarakada Mujaahidiinta Alshabaab, "Mujahideen Youth Movement" or "Movement of Striving Youth"), more commonly known as al-Shabaab (Arabic: الشباب‎), meaning "The Youth", "The Youngsters" or "The Boys", is the Somalia-based cell of the militant Islamist group al-Qaeda, formally recognized in 2012.[4] As of 2012, the group controls large swathes of the southern parts of the country,[5] where it is said to have imposed its own strict form of Sharia (law).[6] Al-Shabaab's troop strength as of May 2011 was estimated at 14,426 militants.[7] In February 2012, Al-Shabaab leaders quarreled with Al-Qaeda over the union,[8] and quickly lost ground.[9]

The group is an off-shoot of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which splintered into several smaller factions after its defeat in 2006 by the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the TFG's Ethiopian military allies.[10] Al-Shabaab describes itself as waging jihad against "enemies of Islam", and is engaged in combat against the TFG and the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Alleging ulterior motives on the part of foreign organizations, group members have also reportedly intimidated, kidnapped and killed aid workers, leading to a suspension of humanitarian operations and an exodus of relief agents.[11] Al-Shabaab has been designated a terrorist organization by several Western governments and security services.[12][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 TFG's troops and their AMISOM allies reportedly managed to capture all of Mogadishu from the Al-Shabaab militants.[5] An ideological rift within the group's leadership also emerged in response to pressure from the recent drought and the assassination of top officials in the organization.[16] Al Shabaab is hostile to Sufi traditions and has often clashed with the militant Sufi group Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a.[17][18][19][20] The group has also been suspected of having links with Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram. The group has attracted some members from western countries, notably Samantha Lewthwaite and Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki.

Name

Al-Shabaab is also known as Ash-Shabaab, Hizbul Shabaab (Arabic: "Party of the Youth"),[21] and the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations (PRM).[22] 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.[23] According to the National Counterterrorism Center, the group's rank-and-file members hail from disparate local groups, sometimes recruited by force.[24] Unlike most of the organization's top leaders,[25] 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.[24] 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.[25] More recently, Muslim converts from neighbouring countries have also been conscripted, typically to do undesirable or difficult work.[26]

Although Al Shabaab's leadership ultimately falls upon al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, the internal leadership is not fully clear, and with foreign fighters trickling out of the country, its structure is increasingly decentralized. In December 2010, al-Qaeda replaced Moktar Ali Zubeyr "Godane" with Ibrahim al-Afghani, also known as Ibrahim Haji Jama Mee'aad.[27] But Al Shabaab refused to comply, and Godane continued to function as its Emir. The group was originally run by Aden Hashi Farah "Ayro", who was appointed by Hassan Dahir Aweys, one of the leaders of ICU at the time of the organization's founding. After the death of Ayro, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow (also known as Abu Mansur) became leader until he was succeeded by Moktar Ali Zubeyr "Godane".[28] 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 Aways. The latter group often refused to take orders from Godane and the two groups hardly talked to each other. In February 2012, Godane made a ba'aya statement, swearing full allegiance to Al-Qaeda. With it he likely hopes 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.[4]

Leaders

Other leaders:

  • Sheikh Mukhtar Robow "Abu Mansoor" – Second Deputy Leader and regional commander in charge of Bay and Bakool.[36] (Leesaan sub-clan of Rahanweyn)[32]
  • Sheikh Fuad Mohammed Khalaf "Shangole" – Third-most important leader after "Godane" and "Abu Mansoor".[37] In charge of public affairs. (Awrtabe sub-clan of Darod)[32]
  • Hassan Dahir Aweys – Spiritual Leader[38] (Surrendered to Federal Government in 2013)
  • Sheikh Hussein Ali Fidow – Political Chief[39]
  • Sheikh Ali Mohamud Raghe "Dheere" – He is from Hawiye Murusade clan. Official Spokesman.[37] (Not to be confused with the Sheikh Ali Dhere who established the first Islamic court in Mogadishu in 1996.)
  • Sheikh Ibrahim Haji Jama Mee'aad "al-Afghani" (Abubakar al-Seyli'i) – First Deputy Leader[32] and Governor of the Kisimayo administration[37] (Sacad Muse sub-clan of Isaaq) (Killed in 2013[40])
  • Sheikh Hassan Yaqub Ali – Official spokesman of the Kisimayo administration[37] (Sacad Muse sub-clan of Isaaq)[32]
  • Sheikh Abdirahman Hassan Hussein – Leader (Governor) of the Middle Shabelle region[41]
  • Sheikh Hassan Abdullah Hersi "al-Turki" – Leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigades which controls the Juba Valley and was first part of Hizbul Islam but merged with al-Shabaab in 2010.[42] (Ogaden sub-clan of Darod)[32]
  • Sheikh Mohamed Said AtomWarlord and arms dealer[43] who in July 2010 announced allegiance to al-Shabaab and the al-Shabaab commander in Puntland.[44]
  • Mukhtar Abu-Muslim – Head of Fatwas,[45] from Darod clan of Ogaden sub-clan.
  • Abdulahi Haji "Daud"[45] – Head of assassinations, from Hawiye clan of Murursade sub-clan.
  • Sahal Isku Dhuuq[45] Head of kidnappings of aid workers for ransom, from Dir clan of Biyomaal sub-clan.
  • Hassan Afrah,[45] – Head of relationship with pirates, from Hawiye clan of Saleban sub-clan.
  • Dahir Gamaey "Abdi Al-Haq"[45] – Judge of Al-Shabaab, from Hawiye clan of Duduble sub-clan.

Foreigners

Al-Shabaab is said to have many foreigners within its ranks, particularly at the leadership level.[23][46] 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.[47][48] A 2006 UN report identified Iran, 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.[49][50]

Formerly a predominantly nationalist organization, Al Shabaab repositioned itself as a militant Islamist group that also attracted a large cadre of Western devotees.[51] 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.[52] According to an investigative report by the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, Al Shabaab recruited over 40 Muslim Americans since 2007.[52] 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.[53]

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 in order to appeal to disaffected Muslim youth and inspire them to join the Islamist struggle.[54] 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.[54] By mid-2013, the U.S. Congress reported that such militant recruitment appeared to have halted.[55]

Most of the foreign Al-Shabab members come from Yemen, Sudan, the Swahili Coast, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. As of 2010, their number was estimated at between 200 to 300 militants, augmented by around 1,000 diasporan ethnic Somalis.[23] Many of Al-Shabaab's foot soldiers also belong to Somalia's marginalized ethnic minorities from the farming south.[56]

Of the foreign members, Jonathan Evans, former head of the British MI5, indicated at a 2010 London security conference that a significant number of British residents were then training in Al-Shabaab camps to take part in the Islamist insurgency in Somalia. 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.[57] Some British citizens have also been convicted of financing the group.[58] As of 2013, security sources estimate that there are around 60 active Al-Shabaab recruiters, including 40 Somalis and an additional 20 mainly British "clean skins", individuals who have not committed any crimes but are believed to have ties with the group.[59]

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 placed the figure of Kenyan fighters at around 10% of Al-Shabaab's total forces.[1] Referred to as the "Kenyan Mujahideen" by Al-Shabaab's core members,[26] 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. Reports suggest that Al-Shabaab is attempting to build an even more multi-ethnic generation of fighters in the larger region.[1] 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.[26] According to diplomats, Muslim areas in coastal Kenya and Tanzania, such as Mombasa and Zanzibar, are especially vulnerable for recruitment.[1]

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.[23]

Foreign al-Shabaab commanders include:[60]

Foreign leaders and members:

  • 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 East Africa. He was an experienced al Qaeda leader who is known to be able to move in and out of East African countries 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 to be Shabaab's military leader, while Sheikh Muktar Abdelrahman Abu Zubeyr was Shabaab's spiritual leader. He was killed on June 8, 2011.[61]
  • 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.[62] 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 reportedly assassinated by the insurgents in September 2013.[63]
  • Abdikadar Mohamed Abdikadar "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, Abdikadar was also a close associate of the late Al-Qaeda operatives Harun Fazul and Saleh Nabhan.[64][65]
  • 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.[66][67]

Terrorist designation

Shabaab is designated as a terrorist group by Australia,[68] Canada,[69] Norway,[13] Sweden,[14] the United Kingdom,[68] and the United States.[12]

History and activities

Main articles: War in Somalia (2006–2009) and 2007 timeline of the War in Somalia

While Al-Shabaab previously represented the hard-line militant youth movement within the Islamic Courts Union (ICU),[70] 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, Sheikh 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.[71]

Their core consisted of veterans who had fought and defeated the secular Mogadishu warlords of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) at the Second Battle of Mogadishu.[72] 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 Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Abu Manssor.[73]

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.[6] 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.[74]

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 over-sized cheap food imports allowed Somalia's own grain production, which normally has high potential, to flourish.[75] 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.[76]

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.[77] 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.[78]

While Al-Shabaab has been reduced in power and size since the beginning of the coordinated operation against it by the Somalian military and the Kenyan army, 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.[79] On July 11, 2012, Somali federal troops and their AMISOM allies captured the area from the militants.[80]

Opposition

The U.S. has asserted that al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda pose a global threat.[81] 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."

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.[6]

Shabaab have persecuted Somalia's small Christian minority, sometimes affixing the label on people they suspect of working for Ethiopian intelligence.[82] 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.[83][84] This has led to confrontations with Sufi organized armed groups who have organized under the banner of Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a.[85]

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.”[86] 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.[87]

Timeline

2006

  • June 10, 2006—The Guardian reports "An unnamed network run by one of Aweys's proteges, Aden Hashi Farah "Ayro" is linked to the murder of four western aid workers and over a dozen Somalis who allegedly cooperated with counter-terror organisations."[88]
  • June 15, 2006—Al-Shabaab leader Aden Hashi Farah "Eyrow", was said to have taken arms sent from Eritrea[89] (see page 12).
  • July 26, 2006—Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Mansur or "Abu-Mansur" was reported accepting another load of arms from Eritrea[89] (see page 15).
  • July—720 Somali volunteers were selected by Aden Hashi Farah "Eyrow" to travel to Lebanon to fight against the Israelis. Of those, only 80 returned to Mogadishu. In September, another 20 returned, along with five members of Hizbollah.[89] (see page 24).
  • The bankruptcy of a remittance company, Dalsan International, whose staff included the brother of Aden Hashi Farah "Eyrow", involved the suspicious disappearance of $10 million. It was alleged, "an ICU military leader managed to divert a large amount of money to help financially support the organization in their fight for the control of Mogadishu during the June 2006 confrontation with the former counter terrorism alliance"[89] (see page 39). (Also see ARPCT, Second Battle of Mogadishu)

2007

  • As of January 6, 2007, after the Fall of Mogadishu and Kismayo to the TFG, the leaders of the Shabaab were in hiding still at large.[90] A member of the disbanded group said they once numbered about 1,000 (lower than other claims by former members), but they do not have any weapons any more. Still, there was support for the call of leaders to maintain jihad against the Ethiopians and secular government.[91]
  • January 19, 2007—Pro-Islamic Courts Union website featured a video describing the reformation of the ICU into the "Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations" (PRM), alternatively translated and referred to in press reports as the "Somali People's Insurgent Movement" (SPIM) or "Somali People's Resistance Movement" (SPRM). On January 24, Sheikh Abdikadir was announced to be its commander of the Banadir region.[92]
  • January 31, 2007—Al-Shabaab made a video warning African Union peacekeepers to avoid coming to Somalia, claiming "Somalia is not a place where you will earn a salary — it is a place where you will die."[93]
  • February 9, 2007—800 Somali demonstrators in north Mogadishu, where Islamist support was strongest, burned U.S., Ethiopian, and Ugandan flags in protest of the proposed African Union (AU) led and United Nations endorsed peacekeeping mission, known as AMISOM. "Abdirisaq", a masked representative of the resistance group, the PRM, said Ethiopian troops would be attacked in their hotels.[22][94][95]

2008

  • February 28: United States Department of State designates al-Shabaab as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in accordance with section 219 of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).[12]
  • August: Al-Shabaab achieve a military victory in the Battle of Kismayo. After several days of fighting in which scores of deaths are reported, Al-Shabaab fighters defeat the militia of Barre Adan Shire Hiiraale and took control of the port city. Kismayo had been held by the TFG since January 2007.[96] The fighting in Kismayo is reported to have displaced an estimated 35,000 people. After the withdrawal of Hiiraale's fighters, Al-Shabaab commence a peaceful disarmament process targeting local armed groups that had been contributing to insecurity in Kismayo.[97] The group has been blamed or claimed responsibility for, among other attacks, the February 2008 Bosaso bombings and the 2008 Hargeisa–Bosaso bombings.[98][99] By late 2008, it was estimated that the group controlled the whole of southern Somalia, except for some pockets of Mogadishu. This was more territory than that controlled by the Islamic Courts Union at the height of their power.[100]
  • October 27: After being sentenced to public execution by Al-Shabaab courts, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow is stoned to death by around 50 militants in the southern port town of Kismayo. Initial reports of the killing stated that she was a 23-year-old woman found guilty of adultery. However, Duhulow's father asserted that she was only 13, under the age of marriage eligibility, and that she was arrested and executed after trying to report that she had been raped. The stoning took place in a public stadium with roughly 1,000 bystanders in it, several of whom attempted to intervene but were in the process shot by the militants.[101][102]
  • December: Anwar al-Awlaki sends a communique to Al-Shabaab, congratulating them. He thanks them for "giving us a living example of how we as Muslims should proceed to change our situation. The ballot has failed us, but the bullet has not". In conclusion, he writes: "if my circumstances would have allowed, I would not have hesitated in joining you and being a soldier in your ranks".[103]

2009

  • January: UN-sponsored peace talks conclude in Djibouti with Ethopians agreeing to withdraw from Somalia and Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed "agreed to stop fighting."
  • January 31: Shiekh Sharif Ahmed is elected present of the Transitional Federal Government. Opposing any negotiatied settlement with Ethiopia, al-Shabaab "declares war on him."[6]
  • February 22: 2009 African Union base bombings in Mogadishu: al-Shabaab carried out a suicide car bomb attack against an African Union military base in Mogadishu, killing at least six Burundian peacekeepers.[104]
  • May: al-Shabaab, along with allied group Hizbul Islam, launched a major offensive in the city of Mogadishu to take over the city, leaving hundreds killed and injured and tens of thousands displaced. The group made large gains, taking over most of the capital.
  • June 18: Al-Shabaab claimed the 2009 Beledweyne bombing, which killed 35 people including Somali security minister Omar Hashi Aden.
  • June 9: U.S. Diplomatic Security Daily cable, 09STATE63860, includes:
  • July 8: A video message featuring an American commander in al-Shabaab, Abu Mansur al-Amriki, is released in which he responds and denounces U.S. President Barack Obama's June 2009 Cairo speech to Arabs and Muslims.[105]
  • August 4: Four men allegedly connected with al-Shabaab in Melbourne, Australia were charged over the Holsworthy Barracks terror plot, a plan to storm the Holsworthy Barracks with automatic weapons; and shoot army personnel or others until they were killed or captured.[106][107] Al-Shabaab has denied any connection with the men.[108] It has subsequently been listed as a terrorist organisation in Australia.[109]
  • August 11: Reuters reports residents in Marka complain "al Shabaab has been rounding up anyone seen with a silver or gold tooth and taking them to a masked man who then rips them out using basic tools." Residents told Reuters that al Shabaab declared that since gold and silver teeth "are used for fashion and beauty," they are against Islam.[110]
  • September 14: Members of the group were killed in a raid targeting Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was also killed.[111][112]
  • September 17: The group claims a second bombing of an AU base, which kills 17 peacekeepers.
  • September 20: Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen released a 48-minute video, "Labayka Ya Usama," ("Here I am at Your Service, Usama") on transnational jihadi web sites. The video is framed around Usama bin Laden's March 2009 audio message "Fight On, O' Champions of Somalia," and features footage of African Union "atrocities" in Somalia and Harakat al-Shabaab units undergoing military training. Bin Laden and the Amir (leader) of Harakat al-Shabaab, Shaykh Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Abu al-Zubayr, criticize Somalia's interim president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, and the religious scholars of Somalia ('ulama al-Sumaal) for apostasy. Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, the American field commander in the group, is also briefly featured.[113]
  • October 15: Al-Shabaab began publicly whipping women for wearing bras that they claim violate Islam as they are deceptive. They sent gunmen into the streets of Mogadishu to round up any women who appear to be being deceptive. The women were then inspected by other women to see if they are being deceptive, if they are then they are ordered to stop.[114]
  • November 1: Al-Shabaab announced the establishment of Al Quds Brigade, a military unit specifically tasked with attacking Israel and Jewish interests in Africa. In a rally held the previous week in Mogadishu, a top Al Shabaab official said, "It is time to go for open war against Israel in order to drive them from the holy cities."[115]
  • December 3: Suspected of being behind the 2009 Hotel Shamo bombing, which kills 24, including three government ministers.

2010

  • January 2: A man linked to al-Shabaab tried to kill Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard at his home in Aarhus, Denmark. Westergaard was not hurt and the assailant was shot, wounded, and arrested.[116]
  • February 1: al-Shabaab declares for the first time that it maintains strong ties with al-Qaeda.[117][118]
  • February 7: The militant group declares jihad on Kenya over allegations that it is training Somali troops although Kenya denied involvement.[119]
  • February 15: an al-Shabab suicide car bomber attempted to assassinate Somalia's state minister for defence, Yusuf Mohamed Siyad when he drove his explosive-laden vehicle towards Mr Siyad's car and detonated, injuring two of his security guards.[120]
  • March 5: The Government of Canada lists Al Shabaab as a terrorist group.[121]
  • March 26: al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a roadside bomb that exploded in Mogadishu killing a Somali government official and injuring the deputy DC for security.
  • March 27: al-Shabaab destroys grave sites of foreign soldiers and a prominent Sufi scholar and hides the body of the scholar.[122]
  • April 15: The group bans the ringing of school bells as un-Islamic since bell ringing is, in the words of Sheik Farah Kalar, "a sign of the Christian churches."[123]
  • June 5: Two New Jersey men, Mohamed Mahmood Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, who were bound for Somalia seeking to join Al Shabab were arrested at Kennedy International Airport in New York City.[124] The men, who have been charged with conspiring to kill, maim, and kidnap persons outside the United States, allegedly planned to kill American troops who they thought would soon be deployed to Somalia to help fight Al Shabaab.[125]
  • July 11: Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for the July 2010 Kampala attacks, which killed 74 people. The Wall Street Journal quotes an International Crisis Group analyst as saying, [Al-Shabaab is] "sending a message: Don't come here propping up the Somalia government ... It's a message of deterrence."[126]
  • July 21: Zachary Chesser, the Virginia man who threatened the creators of South Park for satirizing issues surrounding the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, was arrested and charged in July 2010 for providing material support to Al Shabaab. Chesser was originally apprehended in New York as he attempted to board an Africa-bound plane. He later told federal authorities that he had attempted to join Al Shabaab in Somalia on two previous occasions.[127]
  • July 22: African Union ministers agree to expand AMISOM's mandate from a peacekeeping focus to a peace-enforcement focus that would engage al-Shabaab more directly. The decision was to be discussed at upcoming meetings of the AU Security Council and the UN Security Council for final approval.[128]
  • August 23–24: Al Shabaab is accused of launching attacks in the Somali capital Mogadishu that kill over 300.
  • October 28: Al-Shabaab publicly executed two teenage girls, by firing squad, on charges of spying. Residents gave conflicting information regarding the girls' ages, but they were believed to have been 17 and 18 years old.[129]
  • December 20: Hizbul Islam and the Somali Islamic party merged with Al-Shabaab, retaining the name 'Al-Shabaab'.[130][131]

2011

  • February 4: Al-Shabaab launch terrestrial news channel "Al-Kata'ib" to broadcast propaganda. The first footage shown is a recording of confessions of an alleged foreign spy captured in Somalia[132]
  • March 5: Al-Shabaab loses control of the border town of Bulo Hawo in a joint offensive conducted by government forces working with AMISOM; the militia had controlled the city for two years beforehand. It was also reported that al-Shabaab was resisting against UN/Government forces for control of three of Mogadishu's sixteen districts, with six still remaining in their control.[133]
  • March 16: Abdikadir Yusuf Aar aka Sheikh Qalbi a senior Al-Shabab official serving as the groups leader in Juba and Gedo region was killed in Mogadishu.[134][135]
  • April 3: Al-Shabaab loses control of the town Dhobley near the Kenyan boarder. TFG forces together with Raskamboni movement had been fighting for several days before they took control of the town with support from helicopters of the Kenya Air Force.[136][137] The same day as Al-Shabab lost control of the town Hassan Abdurrahman Gumarey, an Al-Shabaab official was killed in action (KIA) in Dhobley.[138]
  • June 11: Wanted Al-Shabaab operative and Al-Qaeda collaborator Fazul Abdullah Mohammed is killed by security forces of the SNA in Afgooye northwest of Mogadishu; one other terrorist was killed and $40,000 worth of U.S. dollars are recovered.
  • July 5: Al-Shabaab officially lifts its ban on some aid agencies, but upholds it later in the month vis-a-vis certain organizations. As an explanation for this discrepancy, the group's spokesman Sheikh Ali Dhere indicates that the group has no issue with allowing both Muslim and non-Muslim individuals from helping the drought-impacted people as long as those groups harbor no ulterior motives in doing so. Dhere adds that his organization believes that many aid agencies are exaggerating their relief requirements so as to satisfy their own selfish objectives. He also suggests that the actual nature of many of the relief operations are twofold: first, some of the aid workers are in effect attacking as "spies", while others, including the UN, he charges have a tacit political agenda not in keeping with what they claim to be doing. In addition, Dhere alleges that aid agencies that are providing assistance in neighboring countries are attempting to siphon away the various Muslim peoples of Somalia in order to more easily indoctrinate them into Christianity. Al-Shabaab members are reported to have intimidated, kidnapped and killed some aid workers, leading to a suspension of humanitarian operations and an exodus of relief agents.[11] As a result, AU troops step up efforts in late July 2011 to protect civilians and aid workers from attacks.[139]
  • July 26: Al-Shabaab members ban samosas (sambusas) in regions they control, deeming the snack too Christian on account of its triangular, allegedly Holy Trinity-like shape.[140]
  • August 6: The Transitional Federal Government's troops and their AMISOM allies reportedly manage to capture all of Mogadishu from the Al-Shabaab militants. Witnesses report Al-Shabaab vehicles abandoning their bases in the capital for the south-central city of Baidoa. The group's spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage describes the exodus as a tactical retreat, and vows to continue the insurgency against the national government. Observers suggest that the pullout may at least in part have been caused by internal ideological rifts in the rebel organization.[5]
  • August 9: An ideological split reportedly emerges within Al-Shabaab's leadership. Muktar Ali Robow, Sheikh Hassan Dahir and other southern commanders who hail from the areas of the country worst-hit by the effects of the drought, reportedly want to extend relief efforts to the impacted peoples. However, they are overruled by Ahmed Abdi Godane, a northern commander credited with strengthening the group's ties with Al-Qaeda. Observers suggest that the move is a manifestation of Godane's increasing paranoia since the assassination of his close ally Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the latter of whom Godane suspects was set up by his foes within the organization.[16] Sheikh Hassan Dahir also proposes that the group change its tactics by "abandoning Mogadishu to launch Taliban style attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan", but is rebuffed by leaders within the organization.[141]
  • October 4: A truck carrying explosive was driven into a government ministry in Somalia killing 139 and injuring 93. The group has claimed responsibility for these attacks.[142]
  • October 16: A coordinated operation against Al-Shabaab begins between the Somali military and the Kenyan military, as Kenyan troops cross over into Somalia after having met with Somali military officials.[143]
  • October 20: Two women, Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, both from Rochester, Minnesota were arrested for sending money and fighters to aid the group.[144]
  • November 26: Martyrship video of Mansur Nasir al Bihani, an al Qaeda veteran of Afghanistan, who trained al Shaabab fighters, is "killed in a clash with American forces off the coast of Somalia."[145]
  • December 31: The Transitional Federal Government retakes control of the central town of Beledweyne from the Al-Shabaab militants. Somali National Army (SNA) soldiers and around 3,000 allied Ethiopian army troops attacked the city in the early morning, capturing it after hours of fighting. Around 20 people were killed in the battle, mainly consisting of Ethiopian soldiers and Al-Shabaab insurgents.[146]

2012

  • January 6: US Army veteran Craig Baxam is charged in Maryland with attempting to lend material support to Al-Shabaab. Baxam had been en route to Somalia when he was detained in Kenya on December 23 and repatriated to the United States.[147]
  • January 20: TFG forces and their AU allies launch a successful offensive against Al-Shabaab positions on the northern outskirts of Mogadishu.[148] The move was intended to secure the city's outer perimeters from external attack. Two AMISOM soldiers were wounded in the ensuing battle.[149]
  • January 9: Reports indicate that Al-Shabaab leader Moallim Jinwa is sacked from his leadership position. Over 1,000 frontline troops loyal to the commander subsequently follow him to his home town of Ramcadey in the southern Bay region.[150]
  • January 22: Bilal el-Berjawi, a British national and alleged Al-Qaida member and Al-Shabaab trainer, is killed in a U.S. drone attack. The car he was traveling in was struck by three missiles on the outskirts of Mogadishu.[151]
  • February 9: Al-Shabaab's leader, Mukhtar Abu al-Zubair, announces that the group would be joining al-Qaeda.[4]
  • February 19: The Somalian embassy in Yemen indicates that 500 Al-Shabaab militants have fled to Yemen to join forces with Al-Qaeda operatives in the region.[152]
  • February 22: TFG and Ethiopian forces capture the strategic southern town of Baidoa, an Islamist stronghold. Al-Shabaab confirm that it had made a "tactical retreat", vowing a guerrilla war in retaliation.[153]
  • February 25: Reports indicate that hundreds of Al-Shabaab militants, including many foreigners, are fleeing Kismayo and other southern towns for Yemen so as to escape drone attacks and an on-land offensive by allied Somali, Ethiopian, Kenyan and AMISOM forces. Al-Shabaab members deny that they are fleeing and indicate instead that they are regrouping in nearby islands. They also charge that the rumours of their flight are intended to demoralize their fighters.[154]
  • March 9: Schoolteacher Shabaaz Hussain convicted of sending over £9,000 in 2010 to three Somalia-bound friends who had left the UK to allegedly join Al-Shabaab.[58]
  • March 11: Al-Shabaab is blamed for a grenade attack which killed 4 people at a bus station and injured dozens others in Nairobi, Kenya. The grenade was hurled from a vehicle passing the bus station.[155]
  • March 17: Abu Mansur Al Amriki (Omar Hammami) releases a new video intimating that he fears fellow Al-Shabaab members may assassinate him due to differences in opinion over strategy and sharia law.[156]
  • May 25: Somali government troops and their AMISOM allies capture the strategic town of Afgoye from Al-Shabaab.
  • May 31: Somali government forces and African Union troops from Kenya capture Afmadow from Al-Shabaab, a southern town considered important in the military campaign owing to its network of roads that grant access to many different parts of the country. Prime Minister Ali also announces that Kismayo, situated 115 km (71 miles) to the south and the seat of Al-Shabaab's headquarters, would be the next likely target, followed by other towns and cities in the larger region.[157]
  • June 26: Somali government forces assisted by AMISOM soldiers and tanks capture the Al-Shabaab stronghold of Balad, situated 30 km (20 miles) to the north of Mogadishu, in addition to the surrounding villages. The insurgents reportedly fled the area prior to the arrival of the allied troops. Securing Balad gives the Somali authorities and AMISOM control of a key bridge over the Shebelle River leading toward Jowhar and more northerly areas.[158]
  • July 11: Somali government troops and their AMISOM allies capture the town of Lanta Buuro from Al-Shabaab. Situated approximately 40 km west of Mogadishu, the area had been used as a training base for the militant group. 11 Al-Shabaab fighters were killed in the battle; a few allied casualties were also reported.[80]
  • August 27: Somali government forces assisted by AMISOM troops capture the port town of Merca from Al-Shabaab. Residents indicate that the militants had fled a few hours earlier to Kismayo, which represents the group's last major stronghold.[159]
  • August 29: Somali government forces backed by African Union troops battle Al-Shabaab militants in the villages of Aglibah, Janaay, Abdulle and Birta Dheer, situated between Afmadow and Kismayo. According to General Ismail Sahardiid, the commander in charge of Somali Army troops in the Lower Jubba region, over 60 insurgents died in the crossfire. Al-Shabaab claims in turn to have killed dozens of government soldiers in the ensuing gun battle. With the allied forces reportedly around 50 kilometers (31 miles) near Kismayo, General Sahardiid indicates that his men are advancing toward the stronghold with caution but expect to capture it within a period of seven days. According to a local resident, Al-Shabaab have also positioned armored vehicles on the circumference of the town and are patrolling the area in heavy battle gear and wagons.[160]
  • September 1: Somali government forces assisted by African Union troops continue their march toward Kismayo, capturing the southern town of Miido, situated 86 km from the Al-Shabaab stronghold. As many as 36 insurgents were reportedly slain in the assault. AMISOM also deny claims that the insurgents had seized back Afmadow, and dismiss as "untrue Al Shabaab propaganda" reports that the militant group had gunned down an AU helicopter. Additionally, an AMISOM spokesman characterizes as a "very despicable and a shameful act" photos released by Al-Shabaab showing bodies of four allied soldiers being dragged through the Kismayo streets.[161]
  • September 28: According to AMISOM official Col. Cyrus Oguna, the Somali National Army and Kenyan AU naval, air and ground forces launched a surprise attack on Kismayo, capturing the city with little resistance mounted by Al-Shabaab. The spokesman asserts that the insurgents incurred "heavy losses" during the offensive, whereas no allied soldiers were wounded or killed. Fighters from the Ras Kamboni militia also reportedly assisted the SNA and AU troops, who led the charge. Al-Shabaab's military operations spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab states that "fierce fighting" is underway between his comrades and the Somali and AMISOM forces. Local residents similarly indicate that the allied troops have seized the port, but the militants are still present elsewhere in the town and are quickly making their way toward the frontlines in vehicles. The Islamist group's propaganda radio station is also still reportedly broadcasting material and allegedly attempting to trick residents into fleeing toward the oncoming Somali government and AMISOM troops. Kismayo is regarded as Al-Shabaab's last major stronghold on account of the revenue that the group has been able to generate for itself through exporting charcoal and levying port taxes on imported goods. Col. Oguna indicates that capturing the city "may signal the end of al-Shabab because Kismayo has been the bastion which has financed activities of the al-Shabab in other regions of Somalia". Owing to uncertainty as to who will administer the town after the Islamists have been completely ousted, the AU spokesman adds that the offensive was "meticulously planned".[162][163]
  • October 14: Somali government soldiers assisted by AMISOM troops capture the strategically important town of Wanla Weyn, located 93 km south of Mogadishu. The victory permits a direct route connecting the capital with the recently secured city of Baidoa. According to Somali government and AU officials, it also cuts off Al-Shabaab's access to other regions, and denies the militants another key source of funds. Additionally, the allied forces seize control of a former Somali Air Corps (SAC) base, situated within 15 km of Wanla Weyn.[164]
  • October 23: Al-Shabaab posts a series of 11 messages on Twitter condemning the United Kingdom for the extradition of radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza to the United States, threatening a terrorist attack in Britain which would be "bound to eclipse the horrors of 7/7 and 21/7 combined".[165]
  • October 29: Somali military sources report that General Mohamed Ibrahim Farah (Gordan) is killed in an ambush attack by Al-Shabaab insurgents. The surprise assault occurred in the town of El Waregow, near the port of Marko (Merca). Al-Shabaab did not comment on the assassination.[166]
  • December 9: Somali government forces assisted by AMISOM troops capture the Al-Shabaab stronghold of Jowhar, situated 90 kilometres (60 miles) north of Mogadishu.[167]
  • December 17: Al-Shabaab posts a message on Twitter publicly chatising the group's senior American commander Abu Mansuur al-Amriki (Omar Shafik Hammami) for releasing videos in a "narcissistic pursuit of fame." The tweet also asserts that attempts behind the scenes by the group to talk to Al-Amriki were in vain, so Al-Shabaab was morally obligated to divulge his "obstinacy".[168]

2013

  • January 4: Al-Shabaab issue an ultimatum to estranged American commander Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki (Omar Hammami) to either turn himself in to his comrades by Saturday, January 19, or face execution. The move came after Al-Amriki had issued a series of criticisms of the group's leaders via several online videos and his abumamerican Twitter account. He accused senior Al-Shabaab commanders of keeping the spoils of war for themselves while not sharing it with the rank-and-file insurgents who fought for it, and instead imprisoning them for touching it. He also charged the group's senior commanders of focusing too much on internal struggles in Somalia rather than the global jihad, and of assigning assassins to kill fellow militants.[169]
  • January 5: Somali military troops and their Ethiopian army allies fend off an Al-Shabaab ambush attempt in an area between the southern towns of Luuq and Garbaharey. According to Somali military representatives, two of their men were killed in the ensuing battle, with seven other soldiers injured. Insurgent casualties are unconfirmed. The allied forces are marching towards the rebel group's last remaining strongholds in the southern Gedo region, including Bardhere.[170]
  • January 11: Al-Shabaab fighters kill intelligence officer Denis Allex and two other French soldiers in a botched rescue attempt by French forces. A DGSE operative, Allex had been held since 2009, when he was taken hostage by the insurgents while training Somali government troops. In exchange for his release, Al-Shabaab had demanded cessation of French support for the Somali authorities and the complete withdrawal from Somalia of AMISOM forces. According to the French Ministry of Defence, 17 militants were also slain in the crossfire.[171]
  • June 20: al-Shabab members loyal to Godane clashed with rival factions in the southern port of Barawe. Among the dead were two leaders and co-founders of the group, Ibrahim Haji Jama Mee'aad and Abul Hamid Hashi Olhayi.[172]
  • June 28: UN reports that the Al-Shabaab spiritual leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys has turned himself in to pro-government officials in the central town of Adado. Local elders assert that he and his militia are stationed in the central Galmudug region, having fled from their own comrades in Al-Shabaab-controlled territory after a bout of infighting. According to the Shabelle Media Network, legislators and elders flew in to the town in an attempt to persuade Aweys to negotiate with the government. However, the elders indicate that their efforts were unsuccessful.[173]
  • June 30: Aweys is arrested by Somali government forces, after flying in to Mogadishu for talks with the federal authorities.[174]
  • September 4: In a phone interview with VOA, Omar Hammami (Abu Mansour al-Amriki) announces that he has renounced links with both Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda. He cites Al-Shabaab commander Godane's assassination attempt against him, as well as the murder by Godane's faction of an individual who reportedly offered shelter to his two wives as the main reasons for his severing of ties with the insurgent group. Hammami also asserts that he still regards himself as a jihadist, and indicates that he is hiding in parts of the southern Bakool and Bay regions.[175]
  • September 12: Al-Shabaab member Sheik Abu Mohammed announces that Omar Hammami (Abu Mansour Al-Amriki) is killed in an ambush in the southern Bay region. Mohammed asserts that his associates carried out the assassination on the orders of the militant group's leader. However, the insurgents did not offer any evidence of Hammami's death.[63][176]
  • September 19: Somali National Army forces assisted by AMISOM troops seize the Middle Shebelle provincial town of Mahadeey from Al-Shabaab. The militants withdrew from the area following an early morning raid by the allied forces, with no casualties reported. It was one of the last urban centers that the insurgent group controlled. The raid is the first major territorial gain by the allied forces in several months after a hiatus in military operations. According to government officials, the offensive represents the start of a mobbing out operation intended to eliminate remnants of Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda.[177]
  • September 21: Al-Shabaab claims responsibility over Twitter for the Westgate centre shooting, an armed attack in a Nairobi shopping mall. The insurgent group asserts that its militants shot around 100 people in retaliation for the deployment of Kenyan troops in Somalia, with the Kenyan Red Cross confirming 62 fatalities and over 120 injuries.[176][178]
  • September 25: Somali government forces assisted by AMISOM troops capture the town of Biyo Adde from Al-Shabaab. Remnants of the insurgent group withdrew from the Middle Shabelle settlement following a march toward the city by the allied soldiers and their armed trucks. According to local reports, three militants were killed during the skirmish.[179]
  • October 5: Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab announces that Western naval forces launched an assault on a house in the insurgent stronghold of Barawe, a town situated around 180 km south of Mogadishu. He states that the foreign soldiers had silencer guns, and exchanged gunfire and grenades with the militants before being driven away. Musab later asserts that the attack was launched by the UK SAS unit as well as Turkish special forces, and that one British commander was killed during the raid and four other SAS operatives were fatally wounded. Additionally, a Somali intelligence official indicates that a Chechen Al-Shabaab leader was the target of the mission, and that the insurgent commander was wounded during the offensive and one of his guards was killed.[180] Somali police also state that the operation had the approval of the Somali government, and that seven individuals were killed during the mission.[65] Both NATO and EU Navfor deny involvement in the raid, as does a Turkish Foreign Ministry representative. A spokeswoman for the British Defence Ministry also says that she and her colleagues are not aware of any British involvement in the operation.[180] According to another Somali intelligence official, the target of the raid was Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane (Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr). A senior US military representative also indicates that Seal Team Six, the special force unit responsible for killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, launched the offensive but later abandoned the mission after coming under more fire than expected. Speaking about the aborted mission, US Secretary of State John Kerry says that the insurgents "can run but they can't hide". A spokesman for the Pentagon likewise asserts that US soldiers had been involved in a counter-terrorism mission in Somalia against a known Al-Shabaab member, but does not elaborate. He also indicates that there were no US fatalities during the operation.[181] US officials later confirm that the target of the raid was Al-Shabaab commander Abdikadar Mohamed Abdikadar "Ikrima".[65]

Defections

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.[182] 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".[183] 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.[184]

With monies from extortion dwindling in areas like Mogadishu,[185] 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 in order 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 in order 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."[54] 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.[186]

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 which he suggested was "a sign al-Shabab is losing cohesion, losing command and control."[3] 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.[187]

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.[188]

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.[189]

Propaganda

Media

Chorus:

"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[190]

Al Shabaab uses various media in order to proliferate their propaganda. Besides traditional 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 in order to recruit young followers to their cause. 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.[191]

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.[192]

In addition, Al-Shabaab is also using music to influence and appeal to their young followers. According to Robin Wright, "by 2010, almost eight out of every ten soldiers in Somalia's many rebel forces were children", which are especially influenced and susceptible messages conveyed to modern, western-themed music.[193] One of Al Shabaab's foreign-born leaders, American Omar Hammami aka Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, gained notoriety after an April 2009 video of him rapping about jihad.[194] Hammami's most recent song, "Send Me a Cruise", debuted online on April 9, 2011.[190]

Twitter account

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.[195] 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.[196]

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."[197] 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'".[198] 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!"[199]

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".[196]

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.[200] 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".[201]

In January 2013, Twitter suspended Al-Shabaab's English account.[202][203] 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.[203][204] Al-Shabaab later opened a new Twitter account on February 4, 2013.[204] 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.[203] The group later relaunched its English Twitter account on September 11.[205]

Drought

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.[206] Group members dismissed the UN declaration of famine in various regions as grossly exaggerated and banned various organizations from providing aid to those regions.[207]

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,[208] 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.[209]

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.[210] In February 2012, the UN declares that Somalia has produced a bumper harvest, and that the famine is over.[211]

Operation Linda Nchi

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,[212] 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, engaging in various methods in order 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 eye-witnesses 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.[213] Additionally, Al-Shabaab has been conducting militia parades as a show of force in cities such as Marka.[214]

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.[215]

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 which 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.[216] 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.[217]

Merger with Al-Qaeda

On February 9, 2012, Mukhtar Abu al-Zubair 'Godane' announced in a fifteen-minute video message that Al-Shabaab would be joining the Islamist militant terrorist 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."[4] Al-Zawahiri approved and welcomed Al-Shabaab as al-Qaeda's Somalia-based terrorist cell 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."[218] The merger follows reports about a rift in the leadership,[219] and it coincides with reports about large factions breaking away from Al Shabaab,[220] and up to 500 Al Shabaab fighters fleeing or leaving southern Somalia for Yemen,[221] where a full Al Qaeda branch AQAP is stepping up operations, under perceived increased military pressure since a new president took office.[222] Somalia's Transitional Federal Government officially recognized the two Islamist groups as one group.[223]

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.[224]

Internal rift

In response to Godane's announced name change and merger with al-Qaeda, all other Shabaab top leaders called a conference in Baidabo.[225] 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 Shuria 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.[226][227] 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."[228]

This open revolt against al-Qaeda made it more likely that Al-Shabaab would slowly become ready for some sort of negotiated entente.[229] At 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.[230] Aweys was appointed military commander of Kismayo and the south.[231]

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.[232] He was later taken into custody in Mogadishu by Somali government forces.[174] 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.[233]

Collaboration with AQIM and BH

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.[234] Ham added that he believed that the collaboration presented a threat to both U.S. homeland security and the local authorities.[235] 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.[234]

Split with Hizbul Islam

On September 24, 2012, Hizbul Islam spokesman Mohamed Moallim announced that his group was discontinuing its association with Al-Shabaab, an 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.[236][237]

Bounties

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,[238] 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, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow (Abu Mansur).[238]

On June 8, Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) released an official statement expressing support for the initiative.[238]

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.[238]

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 all spoilers 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 for information on two American senior Al-Shabaab commanders, Abu Mansour al-Amriki (Omar Shafik Hammami) and Jehad Serwan Mostafa.[239]

Support allegations

Eritrea

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.[240] 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.[241][242] 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.[240] 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.[243]

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.[244] 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."[245]

Somaliland

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.[246] 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.[247]

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.[248]

Atom and his men were reportedly hiding out and receiving medical attention in Somaliland after being pursued by Puntland forces in late 2010.[249] 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.[250] 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.[251]

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.[249]

See also

Somalia portal

References

External links

  • Ryu, A. 2007, 'Somali government calls for peacekeepers', Voice of America News, February 13.
  • Walker, R. 2008, 'Meeting Somalia's Islamist insurgents', BBC News, April 28. Retrieved on June 8, 2008. (Interview with Al Shabaab member.)
  • "First Stop Addis" – song by Al-Shabaab member Omar Hammami/Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki

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