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aka The Harakat Shabaab al-Mujahidin; al-Shabab; Shabaab; the Youth; Mujahidin al-Shabaab Movement; Mujahideen Youth Movement; Mujahidin Youth Movement
Description: Designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on March 18, 2008, al-Shabaab was the militant wing of the former Somali Islamic Courts Council that took over parts of southern Somalia in the second half of 2006. Since the end of 2006, al-Shabaab and disparate militias led a violent insurgency using guerrilla warfare and terrorist tactics against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia; the group continues to fight the Government of Somalia. In February 2012, al-Qa’ida (AQ) announced that al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed had pledged obedience to Ayman al-Zawahiri and AQ. Al-Shabaab has also developed ties to al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
In some camps, AQ-affiliated foreign fighters often led the training and indoctrination of the recruits, while rank and file militia fighters from multiple clan and sub-clan factions that are aligned with al-Shabaab are predominantly interested in indigenous issues. The group’s foreign fighters were generally intent on conducting attacks outside Somalia but since 2011 have seen their operational capacity reduced due to the military campaign against al-Shabaab. In 2012, al-Shabaab’s capability to wage conventional attacks was greatly diminished. Somalia’s TFG and its successor, the Federal Government of Somalia (elected indirectly in September) – with the assistance of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), as well as Ethiopian and allied Somali militia forces – secured areas neighboring Mogadishu and drove al-Shabaab from control of many of its urban strongholds in south-central Somalia. Most notably, the forces drove al-Shabaab from control of the port city of Kismayo on September 28. This led to al-Shabaab’s greater reliance on indirect assaults and asymmetrical tactics against AMISOM, Somali, and Kenyan forces. These attacks included the increased use of more sophisticated improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Activities: Al-Shabaab has used intimidation and violence to undermine the TFG and now the Government of Somalia, forcibly recruit new fighters, and kill activists working to bring about peace through political dialogue and reconciliation. The group has claimed responsibility for several high profile bombings and shootings throughout Somalia targeting AMISOM troops and Somali officials. It has been responsible for the assassination of numerous civil society figures, government officials, and journalists. Al-Shabaab fighters and those who have also claimed allegiance to the group have conducted violent attacks and have assassinated international aid workers and members of NGOs.
In its first attack outside of Somalia, al-Shabaab was responsible for the July 11, 2010 suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda during the World Cup, which killed nearly 76 people, including one American citizen. Al-Shabaab’s attacks continued apace in 2012, and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people. Among al-Shabaab’s most notable 2012 attacks in Somalia were a series of mortar attacks in March against the Somali presidential palace; an April suicide attack targeting Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali at Mogadishu’s National Theater, which killed five; a May suicide attack at a Café in Dusa Mareb, which killed seven people, including two Somali Members of Parliament; and a violent attack on the town near the Kenyan border in November, which left at least 12 dead. Outside of Somalia, al-Shabaab was also believed responsible for a number of deadly grenade attacks in Kenya.
There were frequent reports of al-Shabaab carrying out amputation of limbs for minor thievery offenses, stoning for suspected adultery, killing converts to religions other than Islam, and forced conscription of child soldiers. Al-Shabaab leaders frequently ordered beheaded corpses to be left in streets as a lesson to local communities. Shabaab forces also engaged in widespread rape and violence against women.
Location/Area of Operation: Al-Shabaab lost full control of significant areas of territory in 2011 and 2012. In September 2012, al-Shabaab lost control of Kismayo, a vital port it used to obtain supplies and funding through taxes. Despite these losses, al-Shabaab continued to control large sections of rural areas in the middle and lower Jubba regions, as well as Bay and Bakol regions, and augmented its presence in northern Somalia along the Golis Mountains and within Puntland’s larger urban areas.
Strength: Al-Shabaab is estimated to have several thousand members, including foreign fighters, a force that is augmented by allied clan militias in some areas.
Funding and External Aid: Al-Shabaab saw its income diminish due to the loss of the strategic port cities of Kismayo and Merka; furthermore, it lost a general ability to freely levy taxes in certain urban areas in southern and central Somalia. Al-Shabaab continued to have sufficient financing available, however, including funds from illegal charcoal production and exports from smaller ports along the coast, taxation of local populations and areas under al-Shabaab control, and foreign donations.
Because al-Shabaab is a multi-clan entity, it receives significant donations from the global Somali diaspora; however, the donations are not all intended to support terrorism; but also to support family members.