The Islamic jihadist group Al-Shabab perpetrated the Sept. 21-24 attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya — killing 72 and wounding over 200 people.
Now Voice of America reports, Nov. 19, 2013, that a year ago, the Somali government and African Union troops were on the move against al-Shabab, taking over town after town. The al-Shabab militants were in clear retreat, and violent in-fighting among top leaders shook the group.
Since then, the tables have turned and al-Shabab appears resurgent with renewed attacks inside and outside Somalia, most notably the deadly assault on a Kenyan shopping mall in September. Analysts say the group should never be underestimated.
According to Cedric Barnes of the International Crisis Group, al-Shabab’s setbacks of 2011 and 2012 may have increased its ability to attack, noting that the al-Qaeda-linked group now “has more capacity to react and change tactics quickly in what seems to be a new capacity to hurt both Somalis and foreign troops.”
In addition, al-Shabab appears to have settled internal unrest after the group’s top leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, reportedly ordered the killing of his opponents, two of whom – Godane’s number two deputy Ibrahim Afghan, and Ma’alim Hashi, leader of the Shura consultative council — were executed on June 19 in the town of Barawe. A third target, Hassan Dahir Aweys, escaped by a whisker and is now in a Somali government jail. A fourth target, Godane’s top deputy Mukhtar Robow, is on the run in the jungle in Bay and Bakool regions.
Godane is also allegedly behind the killing of some foreign militants who challenged his leadership, including the American-born Omar Hammami, who made English-language videos to appeal to Islamist militants in the U.S.
Godane’s triumph over his opponents was followed by the recent attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall, which Barnes says was a “clear statement” of al-Shabab’s ability to attack high-profile targets.
“But it was also a very clear message to the wider world, to the international community and perhaps also to al-Qaida that it was, or is the number one militant organization in east Africa and it should be taken seriously,” said Barnes.
Mohamed Farah Al-Ansari is a former al-Shabab commander who now works with the Somali government. He says the militants remain well organized and continue to receive funding from various sources, although most of the money now comes from inside Somalia.
“They rely on charcoal, which is exported from Barawe town,” he said. “They also collect extortion money from poor, ordinary people; they tell them to pay one-third of their wealth with livestock, forms of other wealth, and they cannot refuse. They apply the same exortion money to Hawala [money services], telecommunication companies. But the assistance they used to get from outside Somalia has declined.”
Godane has the support of determined young militants known as Amniyat, who assist him with sophisticated intelligence, training and commando-style operations. These militants operate like federal agents, independent from regional administrations. The Amniyat are accountable to Godane only, and he regularly replaces their commander to prevent any challenges.
Godane and al-Shabab also have a powerful media operation that targets people both inside and outside Somalia. For the foreign audience, the group sends out messages on Twitter, YouTube and jihadist websites. Sometimes, it sends out cleverly crafted videos meant for broadcast by the international media.
Internally, al-Shabab media officers routinely visit regions to propagate the group’s message through videos and pictures. Video clips of jihadist fighters from Afghanistan, Chechnya and Yemen are shown. Also shown are videos of the war in Somalia.
The U.N. Security Council recently authorized deployment of another 4,000 African troops to Somalia. It appears that despite hopes of peace, Somalia is not done fighting al-Shabab and there may be some heavy fighting to come.
- “Al-Shabab jihadists recruit Somali youth in Minnesota,” Oct. 19, 2013.
- “Al-Shabab: Jihadist terrorists who attacked a Nairobi shopping mall,” Sept. 24, 2013.