Al Shabaab (aka Harakat Shabaab al Mujahidin, or Mujahidin Youth Movement) is an insurgent and terrorist group that evolved out of a militant wing of Somalia’s Council of Islamic Courts in the mid-2000s. In its formative years, Al Shabaab drew on historic anti-Ethiopian sentiment among Somalis for recruits and support, including among the Somali diaspora in the United States and Europe. The group held significant territory in south-central Somalia, including the capital, Mogadishu, in the late 2000s, until the U.N.-authorized African Union Mission in Somalia
(AMISOM) gained momentum against the insurgency through a series of military offensives in 2011-2012. Al Shabaab continues to wage an asymmetric campaign against the Somali government, AMISOM, and international targets in Somalia. Thousands of Somali civilians have been killed in those attacks. While Al Shabaab has primarily focused on its agenda in Somalia, it has threatened the countries contributing troops to AMISOM and successfully conducted deadly terrorist attacks in Djibouti, Kenya, and Uganda. Al Shabaab activity in Kenya has increased significantly in recent years; more than 600 people have been killed in its attacks there since 2012. The group’s April 2, 2015, assault on a university in northeast Kenya, which killed at least 147 people, was the deadliest terrorist attack in the country since the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing by Al Qaeda. Al Shabaab’s ability to recruit abroad and the presence of foreign fighters, among them U.S. citizens, in Somalia have been of significant concern to U.S. policymakers. Its ties with other terrorist groups, most notably Al Qaeda, and its threats against international targets also elevate its profile among extremist groups on the continent. Some of its foreign fighters have reportedly deserted in recent years, either out of disillusion with its military losses or because of internal dissent. Reports suggest some fighters may have left for other jihadist theaters, while others, including Kenyan recruits, may be trained in Somalia and then deployed to conduct attacks elsewhere in East Africa.
Date of Report: April 3, 2015
Order Number: IF10170
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