Al Shabaab Essay

Islamism in Somalia: Al Shabaab

Kategorie Afrika, Articles in English, Studie, Terorismus a extremismus | Autor: Alena Hrušková | 3. 7. 2011 | 19:31

INTRODUCTION

In this essay I would like to focus on a case study of Islamism in failed state of Somalia. The most powerful and dangerous Islamic actor in Somalia is Al-Shabaab, which is ruling now over half of Somalia country.

SOMALIA – BACKGROUND OF THE CONFLICT

Somalia was created in 1960 by the merger of British Somaliland Protectorate and the colony of Italian Somaliland. The United Republic of Somalia was ruled by a democratic government for nine years until it was toppled by a military coup. Consequently, Major General Muhammad Siad Barre took power. Barre established a socialist state, until opposition clans overthrew him in 1991. After Barre’s expulsion, northern clans formed the de-facto, self-declared Republic of Somaliland, which, though internationally unrecognized, has maintained a relatively stable existence. In the south, however, violence between rival warlords killed thousands of civilians, prompting the UN Security Council to sponsor a U.S.-led intervention in 1993. The intervention ended shortly after a brutal firefight in the streets of Mogadishu led to an unsuccessful incident that has become known as Black Hawk Down (Cohn 2010). In Somalia were fourteen separate governments between 1991 and 2010.

Some foreign states are also active in this conflict. On 5th of June 2006, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) defeated a group of CIA-backed warlords and took control of Mogadishu. In December 2006, Ethiopia, with U.S. backing, intervened to end the UIC’s rule and installed theTransitional Federal Government (TFG). The intervention of Ethiopian troops was the main case of Al-Shabbab’s radicalization. In 2008 the United States, the UN, the African Union, the League of Arab States and other actors endorsed the UN-sponsored Djibouti Peace Process. This led to the election of Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad, a moderate figure in the UIC, as president of the TFG (Cohn 2010). Unfortunately, the Djibouti Process did not end the civil war. Islamists created new fundamentalist Islamist group, Hisbul Islamiyya (HI). Nowadays Al-Shabaab controls most of the south part of Somalia. Extremist voices within the UIC, particularly from Al-Shabaab, claiming affiliation with Al-Qaeda, worried many in the West.

“Somalia’s frail Transitional Federal Government has struggled ineffectually to contain a complex insurgency that conflates religious extremism, political and financial opportunism and clan interests. As the result, southern Somalia remains a patchwork of fiefdoms controlled by rival armed groups — a political and security vacuum in which no side is strong enough to impose its will on the others.” (UN Report 2010: 6).

ISLAMISM IN FAILED STATES

We should consider that there are many differences between Islamism implemented “from above” (e.g. Iran) and Islamism in weak and failed states (e.g. Afghanistan). Somalia is for many years a really weak state, where the government has not monopoly of violent. Here are some of the specific signs of Islamism in failed states:

In the case of a failed state Islamist actors generally do not need to define themselves vis-a-vis existing political authority. But neither will they enjoy the relatively luxurious circumstances of political opposition, where one can criticises the government without being required to implement alternatives. However once in power their abilities and religion identity will be put to the test faced the realities of running a country (Mandaville 2007: 198).

In failed states Islamist are often entering into odd alliances to achieve short and medium term goals (Mandaville 2007: 198). Although Al-Shabaab’s ideology is based on Islam religion, it recruits fighters from foreign countries, which are fighting just for money not for religion (Bengali 2008). There is even the evidence that few Americans has gone to Somalia with intention to fight there as well (Schmitt 2010). Al-Shabaab is also entering into alliances with other Islamic organisations in Somalia and local warlords to achieve their goals. Nevertheless, if Al-Shabaab is ruling the country, their future cooperation is not clear.

Islamist actors that are well organised, funded and managed may emerge as parallel service providers or even begin to resemble “shadow governments” (Mandaville 2007: 199). That is what Al-Shabaab tries to do. It forms Islamic administration in conquered towns (AllAfrica 2009). In those towns very strict way of Sharia law is implemented. Islamic actors in weak state often “worked to fill the void left by the absent state, and so build for themselves an enormous pool of social capital and popular legitimacy.” (Mandaville 2007: 199). Lebanese Hezbollah is probably the most striking example of this approach. Hamas does this and Taliban as well. Some analysts said that Somalia resembling Afghanistan under Taliban rule. They are supposed to use the same tactic as Taliban did in the beginning of 90s (Journal Neo).We can see a lot of similarities but Al-Shabaab doesn’t provide social service which is missing at all. Nowadays we can see that Al-Shabaab is losing popular support (Amisom 2011). It is possible, that weakening popular support could mark the beginning of the decline for Al-Shabaab.

To conclude, we can say that apart from few exceptions, Al-Shabaab is acting like typical Islamic organisation in failed state.

AL-SHABAAB

Al-Shabaab was founded by former members of Al-Iltihad Al-Islami, a militant group active in Somalia between 1991 and 1997. Elements of Al-Shabaab appear to have been independently active from approximately 2002, but the group first acquired a public profile in 2005, when it established a base in a former Italian cemetery in Mogadishu. In 2006, the group emerged as the militant wing of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). Following the defeat of UIC by Ethiopian forces in January 2007, Al-Shabaab adopted an increasingly independent trajectory. In January 2009 Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was elected as a president. Al-Shabaab leaders describe President Sharif and the Transitional Federal Government as “apostates” and have continued to attack them with guerrilla tactics, improvised explosive devices and targeted killings.

Organizationally, Al-Shabaab remains a relatively loose and heterogeneous organization, serving as an umbrella for self-professed “jihadists”, clan militias, business interests and foreign fighters. Decision-making in Al-Shabaab is undertaken by a collective leadership structure (UN Report 2010: 14).

Goals

“Its principal objective is to establish a Somali Caliphate of the Wahhabi Islamic sect in Somali-inhabited regions of the Horn of Africa through and by way of militarized intervention by taking advantage of the vacuum in Somalia’s failed statehood and by using the Ethiopian and United States strategic interventions in Somalia as rallying points and a motivating element among Somali youth as a driving force for recruitment and national sentiment of discontent.” (Abdisaid 2008). Recent years Al-Shabaab has been more concentrated on the foreign countries, talking about global Jihad. As Abu Mansor Al-Amriki (2008) – an important member of Al-Shabaab from US – said: “We stress here that we are striving to establish the Islaamic Khilaafah from East to West after removing the occupier and killing the apostates. We will do this while holding on to the Book and the Sunnah.”

In a February 2010 press conference, Al-Shabaab announced it will be aligning itself with Al-Qaeda „to confront the international crusaders and their aggression against the Muslim people.“  (Adl 2011). In comparison with others Islamic groups in Somalia like UIC, Al-Shabaab is much more dangerous than others Somalia Islamist groups (like Islamic Courts) because of the global jihadist vision.

Ideology

On one level, the conflict in Somalia represents a struggle between groups with competing political and ideological agendas. Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam both profess Salafi versions of Islam, while ASWJ represents a number of Sufi branches of the Shafi’i school. On another level, however, the conflict is a product of the clan dynamics that have shaped the Somali civil war for the past 20 year. (UN Report 2010: 11). In July 2008, clashes broke out between ASWJ and Shabaab militias in a number of locations in central and south-western Somalia where Al-Shabaab had attempted to ban Sufi religious practices. By late 2009, ASWJ had emerged as the largest and most effective government-aligned fighting force in southern Somalia. (UN Report 2010: 12).

Connection with Al-Qaeda

It remains unclear how deep the connection between Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda is. The expert’s opinions differ. However, there is evidence that these groups are in contact. That is proved by proclamations of their leaders. UN Report states (2010: 15):“Extremists within Al-Shabaab seek, with limited success, to align the organization more closely with Al-Qaida. Several of the group’s leaders have trained or fought overseas, principally in Afghanistan, and have introduced tactics employed in those conflicts to Somalia.”

In August 2008, Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Mukhtar Robow said that Shabaab was „negotiating how we can unite into one“ with al-Qaeda. He continued, „We will take our orders from Sheikh Osama bin Laden because we are his students.“ (in Gartenstein-Ross, Gruen 2009). Zawahiri responded on November 19, 2008, with video in which he called Shabaab „my brothers, the lions of Islam in Somalia.“ He urged them to „hold tightly to the truth for which you have given your lives, and don’t put down your weapons before the mujahid state of Islam [has been established] and Tawheed has been set up in Somalia.“(in Gartenstein-Ross, Gruen 2009).

According to Hanson 2010: „Experts say there are links between individual al-Shabaab leaders and individual members of al-Qaeda, but any organizational linkage between the two groups is weak, if it exists at all. (…) The strongest tie between Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda seems to be ideological.“ However the connections and contact between these two organisations could be dangerous.

THE CHANGE OF TACTIC

Al-Shabaab’s tactics have evolved over time.  It had started insurgency involving rather guerrilla tactic, but lately it turned to purely terroristic actions. We cannot say when exactly Al-Shabaab changed its approach. After my research, I divided the time of Al-Shabaab’s activity into two periods. First begins in 2006 – this is the year when Al-Shabaab started operated as independent group (according to UN report 2010) and ends in 2008. In 2008 the group started with terrorist attacks outside Somalia. In this year it was listed as terrorist group by USA.

2006 – 2008

“When Al-Shabaab began its insurgency in late 2006, it used classic guerrilla tactics – suicide bombings, shootings, ambushes and targeted assassinations to oppose the Somali government and what it perceives as its allies, from aid groups to the Ethiopian military to African Union peacekeepers. “ Much of the violence was concentrated in Mogadishu (Hanson 2010).

Many attacks are recorded from this period. March 26, 2007: Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the suicide attack detonated a car bomb near the Ethiopian soldiers. This was the first suicide attack in Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab reports that seventy two soldiers died in that attack and that hundreds more were injured (Harnisch 2010: 44). In the year 2007 Al-Shabaab was already very active. It assassinated at least 17 highly important people – eg. the Chief of Intelligence Ahmed Mohamed Odaysge (May 21), the Deputy Chairman of Ahmed Hassan (July 16), judges and many others (Harnisch 2010: 50). There is no evidence of any attack in foreign countries until 2008. In this period Al-Shabaab was acting like a typical urban guerrilla.

2008 – 2011

In 2008, Al-Shabaab began using political strategies to reach out to the Somali public with a series of well-choreographed town visits. Al-Shabaab would hand out food and money to the poor, give criminals quick trials with „mobile Sharia courts,“ and attempt to settle local disputes. As the group sought to take control of towns in southern Somalia, it began to use political strategies as well. Before a particular town was captured, insurgents had meetings with local clan leaders to convince them that their intentions were good (Hanson 2010).

However, the group continued to launch suicide attacks. Apart of this they extended their area of action to neighbouring countries. On 11 July 2010 Al-Shabaab carried out twin bombings in Uganda, country participating in Somalia peacekeeping efforts. It was at the venues, where crowds gathered to watch the broadcast of the World Cup finals. 74 people were killed and 85 injured (Adl 2011). “The attacks point to an internationalization of al-Shabaab’s terrorist activities, which could destabilize East Africa (Atlantic) and unleash repercussions abroad.” (Hanson 2010). In this period Al-Shabaab is also getting closer to Al-Queda.

Another newly using tactic is propaganda – foremost internet. The most active online Al-Shabaab outlet is alqimmah.net. This page is part of Al-Sabaab’s propagation mechanism. On 22 July 2009, alqimmah.net posted a 42-minute audio tape. The recording casts President Sharif as the leader of a heretical regime, and AMISOM forces as infidel invaders, and urges listeners to support jihad against them. The propaganda section of Al-Shabaab subsequently claimed to have distributed this widely throughout Somalia (UN Report 2010: 29). “On 15 August 2009, al-Qimmah posted a link to a book entitled The Science of Explosions and Explosives. The intention of the posting was apparently to make available to Shabaab supporters and sympathizers knowledge pertinent to bomb-making.” (UN Report 2010: 29). They also posted fatwa against Djibouti peace process or jihad video to encourage their supporters.

Al-Shabaab’s military forces include three main categories of fighters (UN Report: 15):

• A core force comprising fewer than 2,500 Somalis and several hundred foreign fighters.

• A larger number of local clan militias aligned with Al-Shabaab, but not readily deployable for operations outside their home areas.

• Irregular fighters engaged for specific operations on a “pay-as-you-go” basis.

Al-Shabaab compensates for these relatively small numbers, and the variance in quality of its forces, with the mobility of its forces and its ability to concentrate them across considerable distances on short notice and to great effect.

A website that claims support for Al-Shabaab published a detailed military strategy aimed at helping militants pull off gains without suffering losses. The five-page plan urges fighters to divide into units and „not to engage in a face-to-face battle — only hit-and-run attacks — to preserve energy.“ It also counselled fighters to carry out ambushes along main roads and in towns.“There is no doubt that those small units will have a major effect on the power and morale of enemy troops on the front lines, something that will stop them from continuing their advance,“ the document continued. (Somalimemo.net in Kaxda 2011)

In my opinion the main cause of radicalization of Al-Shabaab was that more foreign (especially Ethiopian) troops were implemented in Somalia conflict. Al-Shabaab is strongly against any foreign states trying to solve Somalia problems. They are even killing peacekeeping soldiers and humanitarian workers.

Losing popular support

Al-Shabaab has been losing the popular support. “The reason the holy warriors have failed to emerge victorious against the infidels is largely due to the bad relationship between the public and al-Shabab,” said Khalaf, whose remarks were carried on local radio. The comments by Khalaf amounted to an admission by al-Shabab leaders that the group has indeed been engaged in human rights abuses. Human rights groups have long accused al-Shabab of being guilty of harassment, killings, robbery and rape charges Al-Shabaab normally denies. (Amisom 2011). For example “Al-Shabaab punishers cut out the man’s tongue. In another recent incident Al-Shabaab gunmen killed two pastoralists near Kismayu for refusing to pay money demanded by the militant group.“ (Amisom 2011).

„Any organization that uses an ideology of fear cannot survive for long because the population will finally understand the hidden interests of its artificial war,“ said Barigye Bahoku (in Kaxda 2011), the spokesman of the African Union peacekeepers in Mogadishu, adding that Al-Shabaab’s strength „is at best a myth and artificial at worst.“

FROM INSURGENCY TO TERRORISM?

After the change in tactic we may ask a question: Can we still call Al-Shabaab insurgenncy or is it already a terroristic group? I haven’t got enough space here to study deeply the differences and definitions between insurgency and terrorism. It is not the goal of my essay. I just would like to mention it in connection with changed tactic in Al-Shabaab’s acting.

There is only a very tiny border line between these terms. Also subjective feelings play important role in attempts to classify various groups as insurgency or terrorism. “The term ‘freedom fighter’ suggests heroism while ‘terrorist’ conveys cowardice.” (Kiras 2010: 187). According to Kiras, insurgency and terrorism shares the use of force to achieve a political end. Terrorism rarely results in political change on its own while insurgency attempts to bring about change through force of arms.

“Confusion often results from insurgent movements using terrorist tactics to achieve local results. Insurgency, unlike terrorism, is characterized by the support and mobilization of a significant proportion of the population. Individual insurgencies differ widely in terms of character (social, cultural, and economic aspects) and type (revolutionary, partisan, guerrilla, liberation, or civil war) but obtaining power and political control is the desired outcome. Finally, external physical and moral support for an insurgent cause is a prerequisite for success.” (Kiras 2010).

In the first period (2006-2008) there were no doubt that Al-Shabaab was acting like insurgency group (according to the tactic mention above). What about now? It is clear that Al-Shabaab is using terroristic tactic– e.g. terroristic attack in Ethiopia. Could we say that Al-Shabaab is insurgency using terroristic tactic? I am not sure about that, because as Kiras stated insurgency must have public support. Usually insurgents get its resources, food etc. from population. Al-Shabaab obtains many resources from abroad or forces the population to help them. The public support has been falling down really quickly. In my opinion Al-Shabaab is now in the middle of its way to become a pure terroristic group. As far as I can see, there is not any other way for Al-Shabaab then becoming a terroristic group. It is obvious not just from losing supporters, but also from more and more extremist ideology, containing fighting global jihad. I think the connection with Al-Qaeda is very dangerous and together, they could cause singnificant problems in Africa, America and Europe.

CONCLUSION

There is no doubt that Al-Shabaab is becoming more extremist group in both – tactical and ideological means. The shift turned out to be obvious in year 2008, when Al-Shabaab started with terroristic attacks in abroad and also announced that they are in contact with Al-Qaeda. Considering future of this organisation is not easy. Their weak point is a relation with the population. Al-Shabaab doesn’t offer anything to the population. It doesn’t provide social service, food and even security. In my opinion with good propaganda and strategy the government could defeat them. As Kaxda (2010) said: “Al-Shabaab may only appear strong because the Somali government, known as the Transitional Federal Government, is so weak.” However, there is still possibility that after defeat in Somalia Al-Shabaab could move to other state and joint fully to Al-Qaeda.

The situation should be solved as soon as possible because: „Over the last two years the situation has deteriorated into one of the world’s worst humanitarian and security crises.“ (Crisis Group 2008).

 

REFERENCES:

Abdisaid, A. (2008): The Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahidiin, A Profile of the First Somali Terrorist Organisation, in Institut für Strategie – Politik – Sicherheits – und Wirtschaftsberatung. Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/?ots591=0C54E3B3-1E9C-BE1E-2C24-A6A8C7060233&lng=en&id=55851

Adl 2011: International Terrorism Symbols Database – Al-Shabaab. Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://www.adl.org/terrorism/symbols/al_shabaab.asp

All Africa 2009: Somalia: Al-Shabaab Forms Islamic Administration in Strategic Town. Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://allafrica.com/stories/200905200681.html

Al-Amriki (2008): A Message to the Mujaahideen in Particular & the Muslims in general. Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://forums.islamicawakening.com/f18/abu-mansoor-al-amriki-american-mujaahid-somalia-9704/

Amisom (2011): Losing Streak – Public support fades for al-Shabab. Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://www.amisom-au.org/article-51

Bengali, S. (2008): Kenyan Islamist recruits say they did it for the money, in McClatchy. Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2008/11/18/56098/kenyan-islamist-recruits-say-they.html

Cohn, J. (2010): Terrorism Havens: Somalia, in Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://www.cfr.org/somalia/terrorism-havens-somalia/p9366

Gartenstein-Ross, D.; Gruen, M. (2009): Understanding Democracy, in Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://www.defenddemocracy.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=11787129&Itemid=326

Hanson, S (2010): Al-Shabaab, in Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://www.cfr.org/somalia/al-shabaab/p18650#p3

Harnisch, Ch. (2010): The Terror Threat From Somalia, in Critical Threats. Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://www.criticalthreats.org/sites/default/files/pdf_upload/analysis/CTP_Terror_Threat_From_Somalia_Shabaab_Internationalization.pdf

International Crisis Group (2008): Somalia: To Move Beyond the Failed State.Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/africa/horn-of-africa/somalia/147-somalia-to-move-beyond-the-failed-state.aspx

Kaxda 2011: Somalia’s al-Shabab faces first serious threat after pro-government offensive makes gains.Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://www.kaxda.net/2011/04/16/somalias-al-shabab-faces-first-serious-threat-after-pro-government-offensive-makes-gains-2645128

Kiras (2010): Irregular Warfare: Terrorism and Insurgency, in Oxford University Press. Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://www.oup.com/uk/orc/bin/9780199548873/baylis3e_ch09.pdf

Mandaville, P. (2007): Global Political Islam, London, Routledge.

Shishkin, D. K. (2010): Is Al-Shabab the Somali Taliban? in Journal Neo. Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://www.journal-neo.com/?q=node/135

Schmitt, E. (2010): Islamic Extremist Group Recruits Americans for Civil War, Not Jihad, in New York Times. Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/nyregion/07shabaab.html

UN Report 2010: Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia pursuant to Security Council resolution 1853. Accessed 1. 5. 2011.

http://somalitalkradio.com/2010/mar/un_report_somalia.pdf

Autor: Alena Hrušková, studentka bezpečnostních a strategických studií, FSS MU

Since emerging from an era of colonialism under Italy and Britain, Somalia has passed through military dictatorship, famine, and civil war to regional fragmentation. In the modern period, Americans best remember the loss of U.S. military personnel that followed attempts to secure order in the country as part of a United Nations operation. More recently, the hijacking of ships by pirates operating from the Somali coast has attracted considerable attention globally. But the biggest threat emanating from Somalia comes from a different source: An ongoing lack of internal order has left the country vulnerable to the rise of hard-line Islamist groups, of which the latest is Al-Shabaab (the youth), which rose from obscurity to international prominence in less than two years. Al-Shabaab's ideological commitment to global jihadism, its connections to Al-Qaeda, its military capabilities, and its ability to capture and control territory suggest that it will continue to pose a strategic challenge to both the U.S. and Somalia's neighbors.

Aden Hashi Ayro, an Al-Shabaab leader, was believed to have a strong relationship with Al-Qaeda. After his death by a U.S. airstrike, Al-Shabaab posted a biography of him, claiming "he fought under the supervision of Al-Qaeda, and with its logistical support and expertise."

Since its emergence, Al-Shabaab has played a major role in the insurgency that pushed Ethiopian forces out of Somalia; it also received the endorsement of Osama bin Laden and has seen large numbers of Somalis living in the West flock to its camps. Somalia has become, like Pakistan, a significant Al-Qaeda safe haven.[1] Due to the relatively large number of Americans who travel to Somalia for military training, individuals linked to Al-Shabaab are among the top U.S. domestic terrorist threats.

Al-Shabaab emerged from two previous Somali Islamist groups, The Islamic Union (Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, IU) and the Islamic Courts Union (Ittihad al-Mahakim al-Islamiya, ICU). There are three strands of evolution from the IU to the ICU and finally to Al-Shabaab. The first is ideological, in which the groups go through a funneling process and slowly become less ideologically diverse. Though all three strove to implement Shari'a (Islamic law), a significant faction of IU and ICU leaders had a vision that focused on the Somali nation itself—that is, inside the borders of Somalia and in neighboring territories where Somalis are the predominant ethnic group, such as Ethiopia's Ogaden region. In contrast, key Al-Shabaab leaders are committed to a global jihadist ideology. They view the group's regional activities as part of a broader struggle.

The second strand lies in the groups' relations with Al-Qaeda. Bin Laden's organization has long had a presence in Somalia. It dispatched trainers to liaise with the Islamic Union prior to the 1993 battle of Mogadishu when eighteen U.S. soldiers were killed.[2] Despite that connection, some scholars have questioned how deep the ties between Al-Qaeda and the IU really are.[3] In contrast, after Al-Shabaab emerged as a distinct entity, its leaders reached out to Al-Qaeda's senior leadership, and its chief military strategist openly declared his allegiance to bin Laden.[4]

The final strand is the groups' opportunity and ability to govern. Since all three have been dedicated to implementing Shari'a, they would ideally like a governing apparatus through which to apply Islamic law and mete out God's justice. The Islamic Union could not control any territory for a sustained period apart from the town of Luuq. In contrast, the Islamic Courts and Al-Shabaab came to control broad swaths of Somalia, and the governing strategies they put in place indicate that both groups thought hard about how to maintain and expand their power.

Al-Shabaab's Origins

The practice of Islam in Somalia has traditionally been dominated by apolitical Sufi orders.[5] Islamist movements did not emerge until the late 1960s when Somalis gained greater exposure to less moderate currents of Islam in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and elsewhere.

In 1969, Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre executed a military coup that made him president of the young state,[6] which had won its independence nine years earlier. Some of Barre's draconian tactics for dealing with Somalia's fledgling Islamist movements consolidated the groups and gave them momentum. When Muslim leaders denounced reform of Somali family law, Barre executed ten prominent scholars and prosecuted hundreds more. In response, "[u]nderground organisations proliferated in every region in defence of the faith against the 'Godless socialists,'" writes Abdurahman M. Abdullahi.[7]

Though Barre ruled for more than twenty years, by the early 1990s he faced "widespread insurrection initiated by the tribes and powerbrokers."[8] Opponents forced him to flee the country, which collapsed into civil war and prolonged anarchy.

The Islamic Union. In these lawless conditions, two Islamist groups that were the progenitors of Al-Shabaab became prominent. The first was the Islamic Union. Although there is no firm date for the IU's birth,[9] most credible accounts date this to around 1983. Ken Menkhaus, an associate professor of political science at Davidson College, notes that the IU was originally "comprised mainly of educated, young men who had studied or worked in the Middle East."[10] It received significant funding and support from—and was in turn influenced by—the Salafi/Wahhabi movement and its Saudi-based charity organizations. Members concluded that political Islam was the only way to rid their country of its corrupt leadership. The group had two goals. First, it sought to defeat Siad Barre's regime and replace it with an Islamic state. Second, it wanted to unify what it regarded as Greater Somalia—northeastern Kenya, Ethiopia's Ogaden region, and Djibouti—and add them to the existing Somali state.[11]

In 1991, after warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid's rebel forces drove Barre into exile and destroyed his regime, the IU attempted to seize "targets of opportunity," including "strategic sites such as seaports and commercial crossroads."[12] It managed to hold the seaports of Kismayo and Merka for almost a year but was quickly expelled from Bosaso. Menkhaus notes that even with the prevailing lawlessness, Somalis were "suspicious of politically active Islam and remained attached to the clan as the sole source of protection."[13]

The IU managed to control one location for a sustained period: the town of Luuq near the border with Ethiopia and Kenya. Consonant with its original aspirations, the IU implemented strict Shari'a there, meting out punishments that included amputations. However, in a pattern that would later work to the advantage of Somali Islamists, rough justice in Luuq made it safer from crime than most other places.[14]

Luuq's proximity to Ethiopia was significant because of the IU's commitment to a Greater Somalia. In particular, the group focused on Ethiopia's Ogaden, a region inhabited by a majority of Somali speakers. The IU stirred up separatist unrest, and from 1996 to 1997, Ethiopia experienced a "string of assassination attempts and bombings by Al-Ittihad [IU] in Addis Ababa."[15] In response, Ethiopian forces intervened in Luuq and destroyed the IU's safe haven.

Questions linger over the degree to which the IU was linked to Al-Qaeda during its heyday. For example, an analysis published by West Point's Combating Terrorism Center finds numerous alleged ties between the IU and Al-Qaeda.[16]

Against this, Menkhaus argues that there has never been a smoking gun regarding the relationship between the IU and Al-Qaeda since "no Somalis appear in al-Qaeda's top leadership, and until 2003, no Somali was involved in a terrorist plot against a Western target outside of Somalia."[17]

Despite these divergent views, there are two important points about the IU-Al-Qaeda relationship. First, Al-Qaeda's leadership recognizes Somalia's role in one of its first actions, the first time it successfully bloodied America's nose. Al-Qaeda dispatched a small team of military trainers to Somalia in 1993, which liaised with the IU prior to the battle of Mogadishu.[18] Since then, Al-Qaeda leaders have claimed that they—rather than the forces of Mohammed Farrah Aidid—were the real hand behind the U.S. defeat.[19] Many scholars believe these claims are highly exaggerated.[20] But the true facts behind the battle of Mogadishu are beside the point insofar as Al-Qaeda's perceptions are concerned since the "rosecolored memoirs of Somalia have … come to embody the 'founding myths' of the core Al-Qaida methodology."[21]

Second, it is clear that certain key members of the IU had strong relationships with bin Laden's group. One was Aden Hashi Ayro, who went on to lead Al-Shabaab. After Ayro's death, Al-Shabaab posted a Somali-language biography of him, claiming the battle of Mogadishu was "the first time he fought under the supervision of Al-Qaeda, and with its logistical support and expertise."[22]The New York Times would report at the time of Ayro's death that he was "long identified as one of Al Qaeda's top operatives in East Africa."[23]

Following the IU's defeat in Luuq, the group declined in prominence. By 2004, it was regarded as "a spent force, marginal if not defunct as an organization."[24]

The Islamic Courts Union. The ICU was the next incarnation of the Islamic Union. By the time it caught the attention of Westerners, it was more militarily adept than the old IU had been, more capable of governing, and had more leaders committed to a global jihadist ideology. International attention came in June 2006 when the ICU seized Mogadishu and thereafter won a rapid series of strategic gains. It took control of critical port cities such as Kismayo and met little resistance as it expanded.[25] Typical of the ICU's advance was its seizure of Beletuein on August 9, 2006. The local governor fled to Ethiopia almost immediately after fighting broke out between his forces and ICU militiamen.[26]

There was international concern during the ICU's rise. Some centered on the ICU's ideology. Writing in the Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor, Nairobi-based journalist Sunguta West noted that though the ICU's immediate goal was to establish Islamic rule in Somalia, "media reports allege that the Islamic courts are eyeing a bigger Islamic state in the long term carved out of East Africa, similar to the old goals of the IU, which wanted to create an Islamic state out of Somalia and Ethiopia [sic]."[27]

Other concerns focused on the ICU leadership. Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the most prominent ICU leader as head of its consultative council, had previously been an IU leader. West writes that Aweys "has a history of being connected to … al-Qaeda."[28] Indeed, Washington named Aweys a specially designated global terrorist in September 2001.[29]

By late October 2006, the ICU controlled most of Somalia's key strategic points, was able to move supplies from south to north, and had effectively encircled the U.N.-recognized transitional federal government in the south-central city of Baidoa. Somalia had some sixteen operational terrorist training camps;[30] soon after the ICU rose to power, hundreds of terrorists from Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, Pakistan, and the Arabian Peninsula arrived to train in or staff these camps. In 2006, the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia reported: "Foreign volunteers (fighters) have also been arriving in considerable numbers to give added military strength to the ICU. … Importantly, foreign volunteers also provide training in guerrilla warfare and special topics or techniques."[31]

Because the presence of foreign fighters suggested the ICU had ambitions beyond Somalia, some ICU leaders, such as Sheikh Yusuf Indohaadde, publicly denied that any foreign fighters were in Somalia. In a June 2006 press conference, he said, "We want to say in a loud voice that we have no enemies; we have not enmity toward anyone. There are no foreign terrorists here."[32] Weeks later, the Associated Press obtained a copy of an ICU recruitment videotape that showed Indohaadde north of Mogadishu alongside fighters from Arab Gulf states.[33] Another ICU leader, Sheikh Hassan "Turki" Abdullah Hersi, proclaimed: "Brothers in Islam, we came from Mogadishu, and we have thousands of fighters, some are Somalis and others are from the Muslim world. If Christian-led America brought its infidels, we now call to our Muslim holy fighters to come join us."[34]

International jihadist leaders took note of the ICU's rise. In an audiotape released in June 2006, Osama bin Laden stated, "We will continue, God willing, to fight you and your allies everywhere, in Iraq and Afghanistan and in Somalia and Sudan, until we waste all your money and kill your men, and you will return to your country in defeat as we defeated you before in Somalia"[35]—a clear nod to the rise of the Islamic Courts. In July, he issued an even stronger statement: "We warn all the countries in the world from accepting a U.S. proposal to send international forces to Somalia. We swear to God that we will fight their soldiers in Somalia, and we reserve our right to punish them on their lands and every accessible place at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner."[36]

While the IU had little chance to rule beyond Luuq, the ICU imposed Shari'a on some of the key territory it controlled. The rules it imposed were far-reaching. It conducted mass arrests of citizens watching movies, abolished live music at weddings,[37] killed several people for watching soccer, [38] and arrested a karate instructor and his female students because the lessons constituted mixing of the sexes.[39]

Strict implementation of Shari'a often alienates locals, but as the ICU gained power, it was determined to win over the population. Hassan Dahir Aweys sought to harness Islam, Somali nationalism, and distaste for the rule of the warlords.[40] His emphasis on stability and the rule of law won the sympathy of the business community, which saw the ICU's strict rule as a means to reduce security costs.[41] There are no reliable estimates for security costs before the ICU's rise, but the U.N. Monitoring Group's 2006 study reported that checkpoints established by the warlords cost businesses several million dollars a year. The ICU's elimination of certain extortionate checkpoints reduced business expenses, often by up to 50 percent.[42] Citizens who previously had to live under insecure, anarchic conditions also benefited from improved security under the Islamic Courts.

The Rise of Al-Shabaab

By late 2006, Baidoa—the last stronghold of the transitional federal government—was under siege. Many fighters defected from the government to the ICU; all that prevented the government's destruction were Ethiopian soldiers manning roadblocks around the city.[43]

But as the ICU launched an assault on Baidoa, Ethiopia responded with greater force than expected. The Islamic Courts could not match Ethiopian airpower. U.S. air and ground forces supported Ethiopia's intervention by sending armaments and personnel including helicopter gunships and the elite Task Force 88.[44] The Ethiopians and the transitional government wrested Mogadishu from the ICU on December 28, 2006, and quickly reversed virtually all of its strategic gains.[45]

However, there was no coherent plan to stabilize the country and make the transitional government viable. The head of the ICU's executive council, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed—now the Somali president—called for an insurgency.[46] Even before Ethiopia intervened, the U.N.'s Monitoring Group on Somalia had warned that the ICU "is fully capable of turning Somalia into what is currently an Iraq-type scenario, replete with roadside and suicide bombers, assassinations, and other forms of terrorist and insurgent-type activities."[47]

Al-Shabaab emerged as a distinct force during the course of the insurgency. The break between Al-Shabaab and other insurgent groups came in late 2007. That September, the ICU attended a conference of opposition factions in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, and reemerged as the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia (ARS). Al-Shabaab boycotted the conference, and its leaders launched vitriolic attacks on the ARS for failing to adopt a global jihadist ideology.[48] In late February 2008, fighting between supporters of the ARS and Al-Shabaab in Dhobley killed several people.[49] As Ethiopian fighters left Somalia in early 2009, fighters affiliated with Al-Shabaab took their place and implemented a strict version of Shari'a in areas they came to control.

Al-Shabaab's Ideology

Al-Shabaab represents a further step toward a global jihadist vision. Like the Islamic Union and Islamic Courts, it believes that religious governance is the solution to Somalia's ills. When addressing a rally in the southern city of Marka, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, an Al-Shabaab spokesman, emphasized the importance of complying with Islamic law.[50] In an effort to show that Shari'a was equitable, Robow stated that "punishment would be meted out to anyone," including mujahideen, citing a mujahid executed in Waajid as an example.[51]

One important document explaining Al-Shabaab's outlook was written by the American mujahid Abu Mansoor al-Amriki. He gained notoriety in the U.S. when he appeared in a sophisticated Al-Shabaab video dated April 2, 2009, "that employs hip-hop and looks more like an extreme version of 'Survivor.'"[52]

In January 2008, Amriki wrote a document entitled "A Message to the Mujaahideen in Particular and Muslims in General" that rapidly made its way around the jihadist web. In it, he reiterated the need to establish Shari'a, citing as exemplars Sayyid Qutb, the leading theoretician of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Abu A'la Maududi, founder of the Islamist Jama'at-i Islami in India and Pakistan, both of whom "refused to accept entering into the kaafir [infidel] governments as a solution."[53] He specified commitment to Islamic law as a means of distinguishing Al-Shabaab from the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia. Amriki explained that Al-Shabaab had boycotted the Asmara conference because it refused to work with the non-Muslim Eritrean state.[54] He argued that cooperation with "infidels" would corrupt the jihad because Eritrea would open "the door of politics in order for them to forget armed resistance," leaving "members of the Courts in the lands of the Kuffaar, underneath their control, sitting in the road of politics which leads to the loss and defeat they were running from."[55] Indeed, Amriki's screed underscores the gradations from the IU to the ICU and finally to Al-Shabaab. His criticisms of the Islamic Courts emphasize Al-Shabaab's global jihadist perspective. He touts Al-Shabaab's pan-Islamism in opposition to the ICU's clan-backed politics, saying that "the Courts used to judge over each individual tribe," whereas "Al-Shabaab were made up of many different tribes."[56]

Though a non-Somali like Amriki may overlook the continuing importance of clan politics even within Al-Shabaab, other Al-Shabaab leaders have said that the group wants to undermine the country's clan structure. When Robow addressed the Marka rally, Kataaib reported that he "declared that from now on it is prohibited to say that so-and-so clan cannot control over there, or so-and-so clan cannot govern so-and-so region. He made it clear that this land belongs to Allah and anyone who imposes the Islamic law in it can govern it."[57]

Amriki also attacked the Islamic Courts for having "a goal limited to the boundaries placed by the Taghoot [a ruler who fails to implement the divine law]" while "the Shabaab had a global goal including the establishment of the Islaamic [sic] Khilaafah [caliphate] in all parts of the world." [58] While this criticism is not entirely accurate ("Greater Somalia" was not strictly limited by colonial borders), Amriki showed that key Al-Shabaab leaders now saw their efforts as part of a global struggle.

Amriki also provides an extended discussion of Al-Shabaab's manhaj, or religious methodology. He writes:

It is the same manhaj repeatedly heard from the mouth of the mujaahid shaykh Usaamah Bin Laden … the doctor Ayman ath-Thawaahiri [bin Laden's right-hand man] … and the hero, Abu Mus'ab az-Zarqaawi [leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq].[59]

He thus makes clear that Al-Shabaab was aligned ideologically with Al-Qaeda.

Other Al-Shabaab leaders have said that they see the continuation of jihad beyond Somalia as a religious imperative. In early 2009, Kataaib reported that Sheikh Ali Muhammad Hussein, the group's Banadir region governor, gave a media briefing on Ethiopia's withdrawal. He said that "the fact that the enemy has left Mogadishu does not mean that the mujahideen will not follow him to where he still remains," adding that in compliance with the command of God, "he will be pursued everywhere and more traps will be laid for him." Hussein added that the idea that the jihad had ended with Ethiopia's withdrawal was "in clear contradiction with the statement of Prophet Muhammad … that jihad will continue until Doomsday."[60]

In early 2008, when the U.S. designated Al-Shabaab a global terrorist entity, prominent members struck a celebratory tone. Robow told the BBC that he welcomed the designation as an "honor" because "[w]e are good Muslims and the Americans are infidels. We are on the right path."[61] Though Robow then denied a connection to Al-Qaeda, his position has since changed. In August 2008, he said that Al-Shabaab was "negotiating how we can unite into one" with Al-Qaeda.[62] He continued, "We will take our orders from Sheikh Osama bin Laden because we are his students."[63] And Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, Al-Shabaab's chief military strategist, formally reached out to Al-Qaeda's senior leadership in a 24-minute video entitled "March Forth," which circuited the jihadi web on August 30, 2008.[64] In it, Nabhan offers salutations to bin Laden and pledges allegiance to "the courageous commander and my honorable leader."[65]

Al-Qaeda Reciprocates

Al-Qaeda has not ignored Al-Shabaab's overtures. They first took note of developments in Somalia in 2006 when the Islamic Courts captured Mogadishu. When Ethiopia intervened to push back the ICU's advance on Baidoa, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri soon appeared in a web-based video and called for Muslims to fight the Ethiopians:

I appeal to the lions of Islam in Yemen, the state of faith and wisdom. I appeal to my brothers, the lions of Islam in the Arab Peninsula, the cradle of conquests. And I also appeal to my brothers, the lions of Islam in Egypt, Sudan, the Arab Maghreb, and everywhere in the Muslim world to rise up to aid their Muslim brethren in Somalia.[66]

On July 5, 2007, he released a new video, describing Somalia as one of the three main theaters for Al-Qaeda's mujahideen, along with Iraq and Afghanistan.[67] The Al-Qaeda propagandist Abu Yahya al-Libi devoted an entire video to urging Muslims to join the Somali mujahideen.[68]

On November 19, 2008, Zawahiri responded to Nabhan's video with one in which he called Al-Shabaab "my brothers, the lions of Islam in Somalia." He urged them to "hold tightly to the truth for which you have given your lives, and don't put down your weapons before the mujahid state of Islam [has been established] and Tawheed has been set up in Somalia."[69]

Bin Laden himself issued a video devoted to Al-Shabaab in March 2009, entitled "Fight on, Champions of Somalia," where he addresses "my patient, persevering Muslim brothers in mujahid Somalia." Here, bin Laden explicitly endorses Al-Shabaab and denounces the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia, saying that when NATO supported former president Abdullahi Yusuf, the mujahideen were not fooled. "They replaced him and brought in a new, revised version," says bin Laden, "similar to Sayyaf, Rabbani, and Ahmed Shah Massoud, who were leaders of the Afghan mujahideen before they turned back on their heels [as apostates]."[70] In bin Laden's view, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed—who had been an ICU official before becoming ARS's leader—also falls into this category.

Bin Laden explains that in becoming the new president of Somalia, Sharif "agreed to partner infidel positive law with Islamic Shari'a to set up a government of national unity," and in that way apostatized from Islam. He asks, "How can intelligent people believe that yesterday's enemies on the basis of religion can become today's friends? This can only happen if one of the two parties abandons his religion. So look and see which one of them is the one who has abandoned it: Sheikh Sharif or America?"[71]

Al-Shabaab's Strategic Outlook

Today, Al-Shabaab is a capable fighting force that implements a strict version of Shari'a in key areas of Somalia. Its range is enhanced by training camps from which many Western Muslims have graduated. This has made Al-Shabaab a significant security concern to several countries, including the United States.

Terrorist training. Given the relationship noted above between Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda, which includes ideological affinity and interlocking leadership, there are worries about Al-Shabaab's connections to transnational terrorism. These concerns are bolstered by Al-Shabaab's operation of terrorist training camps, successors to the ICU camps.

One of the clearest signs that training camps have reopened in Somalia is an exodus of young Somali men from Minneapolis-St. Paul and elsewhere in the United States.[72] There are further reports of young Somali men going missing from Canada, Europe, Australia, and Saudi Arabia.[73] A senior U.S. military intelligence officer reports that simultaneous disappearances in several countries are best explained by the reopening of Somali training facilities such as those in Ras Kamboni.[74]

The biggest concern is not what these individuals do while in Somalia but what happens when they return to the countries from which they came. It is a concern not only for the United States but also Britain: The Times of London reports that the British security services believe that "[d]ozens of Islamic extremists have returned to Britain from terror training camps in Somalia."[75] British intelligence analysts are concerned about possible terror attacks in the U.K., and British television has reported that an October 2007 suicide bombing in Somalia was thought to have been carried out by a U.K.-raised bomber.[76] Peter Neumann of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King's College, London, told Channel 4 News: "The numbers I hear (going from Britain to Somalia) are 50, 60 or 70, but in reality we don't know. You don't need big numbers for terrorism."[77]

Al-Shabaab's training is both military and ideological. In 2006, Frederick Nzwili, a Nairobi-based journalist, reported that training camps run by Aweys and Al-Shabaab founder Aden Hashi Ayro "included indoctrination into fundamentalist ideology aimed at advocating jihad in Islamic states."[78] The Economist notes the fundamentalist environment in which Al-Shabaab's training occurs, wherein recruits "are expected to disavow music, videos, cigarettes and qat, the leaf Somali men chew most afternoons to get mildly high."[79]

Military capabilities. It is difficult to say how many fighters make up Al-Shabaab's militia. Some estimates suggest between 6,000 and 7,000.[80] Al-Shabaab is battle-ready, given that Somalia's history is replete with fighters who have experience with asymmetrical warfare, small unit tactics, and a wide array of weaponry. One tactic that Al-Shabaab is said to have introduced to Somalia is suicide bombing. They have also carried out assassination attempts against Somali government officials.[81]

Overall, Al-Shabaab fought competently against the Ethiopians. In late 2008, it made geographical gains and consolidated power in the Lower Juba region, allowing it to establish a Shari'a-based administration there on September 5. It also showed itself able to strike Mogadishu. In late October, Al-Shabaab carried out five suicide bombings in northern Somalia, killing twenty-eight people.[82] One of the bombers, Shirwa Ahmed, was a naturalized American citizen, the United States' first successful suicide bomber.[83]

By the end of 2008, the Ethiopian government could no longer sustain its occupation. In early January 2009, trucks filled with Ethiopian soldiers left Mogadishu. Large numbers of Somali parliament members also fled; settling in Djibouti, they set up reconciliation talks that doubled the size of parliament to include Islamist members linked to the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia. They also selected ARS leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as their new president. Though Sharif expressed optimism that he could "improve the situation in Somalia and establish genuine peace and reconciliation in my country,"[84] others were less sanguine. "Where will this parliament go?" asked Abdiweli Ali, a former adviser to the transitional government. "The seat of government has already been captured by Al-Shabaab."[85]

As Ethiopian forces left, Al-Shabaab had a substantial area of control, including Baidoa in south-central Somalia and Kismayo in the far south. Moreover, its capabilities may have been magnified by the arrival of other Islamic fighters. In late April 2009, Associated Press reported that battle-hardened extremists from safe havens along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border were entering East Africa. Part of the concern, according to U.S. officials, is that these extremists could "pass on sophisticated training and attack techniques gleaned from seven years at war against the U.S. and allies in Iraq and Afghanistan."[86]

Implementation of Shari'a law. Al-Shabaab has imposed a strict version of Shari'a in the areas it has captured, normally forming an administration to oversee Shari'a and other matters relating to law and governance. In September 2008, it announced a new administration for Kismayo that included "several committees that will run the town," a district commissioner, head of information, head of security, head of finance, and head of preaching.[87] It later formed a similar administration in Marka.[88]

The strictness of Al-Shabaab's Shari'a rulings can be seen in the laws that it has implemented and the punishments it has meted out. Amnesty International claims that a 13-year-old rape victim was stoned to death in Kismayo last year for alleged adultery.[89] In late 2008, as Al-Shabaab seized Marka, leaders informed residents that cinema houses and music recording studios were banned.[90] It also warned that action would be taken against anyone found on the streets or opening their shop during prayer times. In January 2009, in the same city, Al-Shabaab executed a politician for apostasy, alleging his cooperation with Ethiopian forces.[91] On January 28, they amputated the hand of a Kismayo man convicted of stealing fishing nets. In February, they sentenced a number of youths caught using narcotic drugs in Baidoa to public lashings.[92]

Al-Shabaab intends to continue expanding Shari'a. In an audio message on January 2009, the group's emir Sheikh Mukhtar Abdirahman Abu Zubeyr said that democracy and communism had failed in Somalia because both political systems "were incongruent with the teachings of the Islamic religion." His message called for widespread implementation of Shari'a.[93]

In addition to Shari'a, Al-Shabaab has implemented other rules designed to help it maintain power. It has implemented rules directed at journalists "requiring that no reports be disseminated of which the administration was unaware, that only 'factual' news be presented, that nothing detrimental to the practice of Shari'a be reported, and that no music be played on the radio that encouraged 'sin.'"[94]

Al-Shabaab's rules have been enforced not only by administrative methods but also through intimidation. In 2008, London's Sunday Times reported that Al-Shabaab was shutting down "objectionable" business sectors in Mogadishu by carrying out selective attacks and sending "night letter" warnings to other business owners.[95]

At times, Somalis have expressed violent displeasure with these new rules. In January 2009, for example, Kismayo residents rioted after Al-Shabaab transformed a soccer stadium into a market.[96] But there are also signs that the group listens to public outcries and that there is a pragmatic side to its activities. For example, Al-Shabaab has undertaken public works programs such as building a canal connecting Jannaale, Golweyn, and Buulo Mareer.[97] Additionally, because Somalia has been mired in anarchy since the early 1990s, many Somalis find even Al-Shabaab's strict version of Shari'a preferable to lawlessness.

Conclusion

A number of governments now look upon Al-Shabaab's rise as a major security concern. Its commitment to global jihadism, joint leadership with Al-Qaeda, and military capabilities are likely to make it a problem for some time to come.

Al-Shabaab does face certain challenges from within Somalia. For example, it has clashed with another Islamist group, Ahlu Sunna wa'l-Jama'a. Despite Al-Shabaab's military capabilities, Ahlu Sunna has been able to bloody its nose on more than one occasion. In late December 2008, Ahlu Sunna fighters killed more than ten Al-Shabaab mujahideen in a single weekend.[98] In late January 2009, Ahlu Sunna captured the Dhuusa Mareeb District in central Somalia.[99] There is a doctrinal element to these skirmishes: Though both groups are Islamist, favoring incorporating Islamic law into the laws of the state, Ahlu Sunna adheres to traditional Somali Sufi religious practice—something Al-Shabaab's hard-line Salafi outlook staunchly opposes.

Though such internal challenges may be exploited by the United States, Somali political Islam will be with us for a long time. As Menkhaus told The Washington Post, Somali leaders "are increasingly required to present themselves in some fashion as Islamist."[100] Against this backdrop, the top U.S. priority should be containment of the danger that Al-Shabaab and other Islamist groups pose outside Somalia's borders. The fact is that U.S. policies have left a legacy of mistakes and missed opportunities. To move forward, policymakers will need to recognize past U.S. mistakes and understand the strategic challenges posed by groups such as Al-Shabaab.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross directs the Center for Terrorism Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and is a Ph.D. candidate in world politics at the Catholic University of America.

[1] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Kyle Dabruzzi, "Is Al-Qaeda's Central Leadership Still Relevant?" Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2008, pp. 27-36; Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, "While Pakistan Burns," The Weekly Standard, Oct. 29, 2007.
[2] Karen A. Mingst and Margaret P. Karns, The United Nations in the 21st Century, 3rd ed. (Boulder: Westview Press, 2006), p. 100.
[3] Ken Menkhaus, Somalia : State Collapse and the Threat of Terrorism, Adelphi Paper 364 (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 65.
[4] Nick Grace, "Shabaab Reaches Out to al Qaeda Senior Leaders, Announces Death of al Sudani," The Long War Journal, Sept. 2, 2008.
[5] I.M. Lewis, A Modern History of the Somali, 4th ed. (Oxford: James Currey Ltd., 2002), p. 15.
[6]Michael Walls, "State Formation in Somaliland: Building Peace from Civil War," paper presented at 2008 International Peace Research Conference, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, July 14-19, 2008, p. 10.
[7] Abdurahman M. Abdullahi, "Perspective on the State Collapse in Somalia," in Abdullahi A. Osman and Issaka K. Souaré, eds., Somalia at the Crossroads: Challenges and Perspectives on Reconstituting a Failed State (London: Adonis and Abbey Publishers, Ltd., 2007), p. 44.
[8] Shaul Shay, Somalia between Jihad and Restoration (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2008), p. 8.
[9] "Somalia: Countering Terrorism in a Failed State," International Crisis Group (ICG), Africa Report, no. 45, May 23, 2002, p. 16.
[10] Menkhaus, Somalia, p. 56.
[11] Gregory Alonso Pirio and Hrach Gregorian, "Jihadist Threat in Africa," Middle East Times, July 11, 2006.
[12] Menkhaus, Somalia, p. 56.
[13] Ibid., p. 57.
[14] Ameen Jan, "Somalia: Building Sovereignty or Restoring Peace?" in Elizabeth M. Cousens, et al. eds., Peacebuilding as Politics: Cultivating Peace in Fragile Societies (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000), p. 56.
[15] Menkhaus, Somalia, p. 60.
[16] "Somalia's al-Ittihad al-Islami," West Point Combating Terrorism Center, (n.d.), pp. 2-3.
[17] Menkhaus, Somalia, p. 65; "Somalia: Countering Terrorism in a Failed State," ICG, p. 15.
[18] Evan F. Kohlmann, Shabaab al-Mujahideen: Migration and Jihad in the Horn of Africa (New York: NEFA Foundation, 2009), p. 4.
[19] Anonymous (Michael Scheuer), Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America (Dulles, Va.: Potomac Books, 2003), pp. 136-7.
[20]The New York Times, Apr. 27, 2001; Amb. Robert Oakley, "Somalia: Is There a Light at the End of the Tunnel?" presentation at the Middle East Institute, Washington, D.C., July 17, 2006.
[21] Kohlmann, Shabaab al-Mujahideen, p. 6.
[22]Taariikh Nololeedkii Macallin Aadan Xaashi Faarax Cayrow, Mar. 2009, posted on Al-Qimmah.net, accessed May 5, 2009.
[23]The New York Times, May 2, 2008.
[24] Menkhaus, Somalia, p. 63.
[25] "Somalia Civil War," GlobalSecurity.org, accessed June 10, 2009; Asaf Maliach, "Somalia– Africa's Afghanistan?" International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), June 22, 2006.
[26]SomaliNet, Aug. 9, 2006.
[27] Sunguta West, "Somalia's ICU and Its Roots in al-Ittihad al-Islami," Terrorism Monitor, Aug. 4, 2006.
[28] Ibid.
[29]Executive Order 13224, U.S. Treasury Dept., Sept. 23, 2001.
[30] "Initial Assessment on the Potential Impact of Terrorism in Eastern Africa: Focus on Somalia," Partners International Foundation, Newtown, Conn., May 5, 2002, p. 48.
[31] Bruno Schiemsky, et al., "Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1676," U.N. Security Council Committee, New York, Nov. 2006, p. 42.
[32] Associated Press, June 20, 2006.
[33] Associated Press, July 5, 2006.
[34] Michelle Shephard, "Back to Somalia: Asho's Sad End," The Toronto Star, Dec. 21, 2008.
[35]Alex Wilner, "Is Somalia the Next Afghanistan?" Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, Halifax, Nov. 24, 2006.
[36] CNN, July 2, 2006.
[37] West, "Somalia's ICU and Its Roots in al-Ittihad al-Islami."
[38]BBC News, July 5, 2006.
[39] J. Peter Pham, "Financing Somalia's Islamist Warlords," World Defense Review, Sept. 21, 2006.
[40] Author telephone interview with Abdiweli Ali, assistant professor of economics, Niagara University, Dec. 6, 2006.
[41] Ibid.
[42] Schiemsky, et al., "Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia," p. 33.
[43] Bill Roggio, "The Battle of Baidoa," The Long War Journal, Dec. 23, 2006.
[44]The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2007.
[45] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, "Blackhawk Up," Weekly Standard, Jan. 29, 2007.
[46]Garowe Online (Puntland, Somalia), Dec. 26, 2006.
[47] Schiemsky, et al., "Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia," pp. 42-3.
[48] Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, "A Message to the Mujaahideen in Particular and Muslims in General," Jan. 2008.
[49] Author telephone interview with Abdiweli Ali, Feb. 2008.
[50] "Somalia: Al-Shabaab Leader Abu Mansur Addresses Rally in Southern City of Marka," Kataaib.net, Nov. 14, 2008, Open Source Center, trans.
[51] Ibid.
[52]The New York Post, Apr. 4, 2009.
[53] Amriki, "A Message to the Mujaahideen," p. 4.
[54] Ibid., p. 3.
[55] Ibid.
[56] Ibid., p. 2.
[57]Kataaib.net, Nov. 14, 2008.
[58] Amriki, "A Message to the Mujaahideen," p. 2.
[59] Ibid., pp. 4-5.
[60] "Somalia: Al-Shabaab Official Equates AU Peacekeepers with Ethiopian Troops," Kataaib.net, Open Source Center, trans., Jan. 17, 2009.
[61]BBC News, Mar. 21, 2008.
[62]The Sunday Independent (Johannesburg), Aug. 31, 2008.
[63] Ibid.
[64]"March Forth," Aug. 31, 2008, accessed July 14, 2009.
[65] "Somali Mujahideen Confirm al-Qaeda Suspect Abu Talha al-Sudani Killed Last Year," Terrorism Focus (Jamestown Foundation, Washington, D.C.), Sept. 10, 2008.
[66]BBC News, Jan. 5, 2007.
[67]Fox News, July 5, 2007.
[68] "Al-Qa'ida Figure al-Libi Urges Somali 'Mujahidin' to Only Accept 'Islamic State,'" Open Source Center Summary in Arabic, June 22, 2008.
[69]The Long War Journal, Mar. 22, 2009.
[70] Osama bin Laden, "Fight on Champions of Somalia," Mar. 2009, Internet Archive, San Francisco, accessed June 11, 2009.
[71]Ibid.
[72]Newsweek, Feb. 2, 2009; The Washington Post, Mar. 11, 2009.
[73] James Brandon, "Islamist Movements Recruiting in the West for the Somali Jihad," Terrorism Monitor, Jan. 9, 2009.
[74] Author telephone interview with senior U.S. military intelligence officer, Dec. 2008.
[75]The Times (London), Feb. 16, 2009.
[76]The Times, Feb. 16, 2009.
[77]The Times, Feb. 16, 2009.
[78] Frederick Nzwili, "Leadership Profile: Somalia's Islamic Courts Union," Terrorism Focus, Jamestown Foundation, Washington, D.C., June 13, 2006.
[79] "The Rise of the Shabab," The Economist, Dec. 18, 2008.
[80] "Somalia: Al Qaeda and Al Shabab," Stratfor Intelligence Service (Austin, Tex.), May 5, 2008.
[81] Ahmed A. Hassan, "Al Shabab Threat Clouds the Horn of Africa," Wardheer News (Somalia), Feb. 3, 2009.
[82] Reuters, Oct. 29, 2008.
[83]ABC News, Nov. 25, 2008.
[84] Bloomberg (New York), Feb. 3, 2009.
[85] Author telephone interview with Abdiweli Ali, Feb. 2009.
[86] Associated Press, Apr. 28, 2009.
[87] "Somali Islamists Name New Administration for Key Southern Port City," BBC Monitoring Africa-Political, Sept. 6, 2008.
[88] "Somalia: Islamist Group Forms Administration in Southern Region," BBC Monitoring Africa-Political, Dec. 6, 2008.
[89]BBC News, Nov. 4, 2008.
[90] "Somalia: Al-Shabaab Bans Films, Music in Southern Port City of Marka," Gobolada.com, Nov. 13, 2008, Open Source Center, trans.
[91]BBC News, Jan. 16, 2009.
[92] "Somalia: Al-Shabaab in South-Central City of Baydhabo Lashes 6 Men for Drug Use," Kataaib.info, Feb. 15, 2009, Open Source Center, trans.
[93] "Somalia: Al-Shabaab Amir Abu Zubeyr Issues New Audio Message," Kataaib.net, Jan. 5, 2009, Open Source Center, trans.
[94] Michael Weinstein, "Somalia: Ideological Diversity in Country's Islamic Courts Movement," Garowe Online, Sept. 25, 2008.
[95]The Sunday Times (London), May 11, 2008.
[96] African Press Agency, Jan. 26, 2009.
[97] "Somalia: Al-Shabaab District Head Speaks about Islamic Rule, Development," Kataaib.info, Feb. 9, 2009, Open Source Center, trans.
[98]The New York Times, Dec. 29, 2008.
[99]BBC Monitoring Africa-Political, Jan. 29, 2009.
[100]The Washington Post, Jan. 22, 2009.

Related Topics:  Radical Islam  |  Daveed Gartenstein-Ross  |  Fall 2009 MEQreceive the latest by email: subscribe to the free mef mailing listThis text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete and accurate information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.

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