Al-Shabaab (militant group)

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Participant in the Somali Civil War,
the al-Qaeda insurgency in Yemen,
the Yemeni Civil War, and the War on Terror

Seal Logo

Black Standard used by Al-Shabaab
Active 2006 – present
Leaders Ahmad Umar (Abu Ubaidah) (6 September 2014–present)[1]
Ahmed Godane  (December 2007–September 2014)[2]
Headquarters Kismayo (22 August 2008–29 September 2012)
Barawe[3] (29 September 2012–5 October 2014)
Area of operations Southern Somalia
Strength 7,000–9,000[5]
Part of Al-Qaeda
Split from Islamic Courts Union
Allies al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Foreign Mujahedeen
Allied Democratic Forces

State Opponents

Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM; Arabic: حركة الشباب المجاهدين, Ḥarakat ash-Shabāb al-Mujāhidīn; Somali: Xarakada Mujaahidiinta Alshabaab, lit. "Mujahideen Youth Movement" or "Movement of Striving Youth"), more commonly known as Al-Shabaab (Arabic: الشباب, lit. '"The Youth" or "The Youngsters"'), is a jihadist terrorist group based in East Africa. In 2012, it pledged allegiance to the militant Islamist organization Al-Qaeda.[7] In February of the year, some of the group's leaders quarreled with Al-Qaeda over the union,[8][9] and quickly lost ground.[10] Al-Shabaab's troop strength was estimated at 7,000 to 9,000 militants in 2014.[5] As of 2015, the group has retreated from the major cities, controlling a few rural areas.[11]

Al-Shabaab is an offshoot of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which splintered into several smaller factions after its defeat in 2006 by Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the TFG's Ethiopian military allies.[12] The group describes itself as waging jihad against "enemies of Islam", and is engaged in combat against the Federal Government of Somalia and the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Al-Shabaab has been designated as a terrorist organization by Australia, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.[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 Transitional Federal Government's troops and their AMISOM allies managed to capture all of Mogadishu from the Al-Shabaab militants.[16] An ideological rift within the group's leadership also emerged, and several of the organization's senior commanders were assassinated.[17] Due to its Wahhabi roots, Al Shabaab is hostile to Sufi traditions,[18] and has often clashed with the militant Sufi group Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a.[19] The group has also been suspected of having links with Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram. Additionally, it attracted some members from western countries, notably Samantha Lewthwaite and Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki.

In August 2014, the Somali government-led Operation Indian Ocean was launched to clean up the remaining insurgent-held pockets in the countryside.[20] On 1 September 2014, a U.S. drone strike carried out as part of the broader mission killed Al-Shabaab leader Moktar Ali Zubeyr.[21] U.S. authorities hailed the raid as a major symbolic and operational loss for Al-Shabaab, and the Somali government offered a 45-day amnesty to all moderate members of the militant group.[22]


Al-Shabaab is also known as Ash-Shabaab, Hizbul Shabaab ("Party of the Youth"),[23] Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations (PRM) (Arabic: حركة المقاومة الشعبية فى بلاد الهجرتين) [24] 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

See also: Mujahideen

Al-Shabaab's composition is multiethnic, with its leadership positions mainly occupied by Afghanistan- and Iraq-trained ethnic Somalis and foreigners.[25] According to the National Counterterrorism Center, the group's rank-and-file members hail from disparate local groups, sometimes recruited by force.[26] Unlike most of the organization's top leaders,[27] 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.[26] 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.[27] More recently, Muslim converts from neighbouring countries have been conscripted, typically to do undesirable or difficult work.[28]

Although al-Shabaab's leadership ultimately falls upon al-Qaeda leader Ameer Ragheb, the internal leadership is not fully clear, and with foreign fighters trickling out of the country, its structure is increasingly decentralized. Ahmed Abdi Godane was publicly named as emir of al-Shabaab in December 2007.[29] 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 Aweys. The latter group often refused to take orders from Godane and the two groups hardly talked to each other. In February 2012, Godane made Bay'ah, or an oath of allegiance, to al-Qaeda. With it he likely hoped 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.[7] Godane was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Somalia on September 1, 2014.[30] Ahmad Umar was named Godane's successor on 6 September 2014, he is believed to have previously played a role in al-Shabaab's internal secret service known as Amniya.[31]


Other leaders:

Mukhtar Robow ("Abu Mansoor"), the Second Deputy Leader of Al-Shabaab.


al-Shabaab is said to have many foreigners within its ranks, particularly at the leadership level.[25][50] 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.[51][52] A 2006 UN report identified 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.[53][54]

Formerly a predominantly nationalist organization, al-Shabaab repositioned itself as a militant Islamist group that also attracted a large cadre of Western devotees.[55] 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.[56] According to an investigative report by the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, Al Shabaab recruited over 40 Muslim Americans since 2007.[56] 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.[57]

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 to appeal to disaffected Muslim youth and inspire them to join the Islamist struggle.[58] 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.[58] By mid-2013, the U.S. Congress reported that such militant recruitment appeared to have halted.[59]

Most of the foreign al-Shabaab members come from Yemen, Sudan, the Swahili Coast, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. As of 2010, their number was estimated at between 200 and 300 militants, augmented by around 1,000 diasporan ethnic Somalis.[25] Many of Al-Shabaab's foot soldiers also belong to Somalia's marginalized ethnic minorities from the farming south.[60]

Of the foreign members, Jonathan Evans, the former head of MI5, addressing a London security conference in 2010,[61] advised that "a significant number of UK residents" were training with al-Shabaab. 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. "It is only a matter of time before we see terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting alongside al-Shabaab."[62] The actual number has been estimated at between 50[63] and 100[64] persons; one source estimating around 60 active Al-Shabaab recruiters, including 40 Somalis and an additional 20 mainly British-based 'clean skins', individuals who have not committed any crimes but are believed to have ties with the group.[65] There is also evidence of funding of the group by Somalis resident in Britain.[62][66]

Of the ten people subject to control orders (now Tpim orders) in 2012, at least five are associated with al-Shabaab: (pseudonymously) CC, CE "a British citizen of Iranian origin, aged 28 in 2012", CF, and DD "a non-British citizen […] believed […] to have been associated with the funding and promotion of [terrorism-related activity] in East Africa."[67] At least two British Somalis, Ibrahim Magag[66] (referred to as BX in Court documentation) and Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed,[68] have absconded.

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 in 2014 placed the figure of Kenyan fighters at around 25% of Al-Shabaab's total forces.[69] Referred to as the "Kenyan Mujahideen" by Al-Shabaab's core members,[28] 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.[70] Reports suggest that al-Shabaab is attempting to build an even more multi-ethnic generation of fighters in the larger region.[71] 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.[28] According to diplomats, Muslim areas in coastal Kenya and Tanzania, such as Mombasa and Zanzibar, are especially vulnerable for recruitment.[71]

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.[25]

Foreign al-Shabaab commanders include:[72]

Foreign leaders and members:

Jehad Serwan Mostafa ("Emir Anwar"), a senior Al-Shabaab commander and trainer.
Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir ("Ikrima"), a senior Al-Shabaab regional commander.

Terrorist designation

Countries and organizations below have officially listed Al-Shabaab as a terrorist organization.

Country Date References
 Australia 22 August 2009 [86]
 Canada 5 March 2010 [87][88]
 New Zealand 10 February 2010 [89]
 Norway [14]
 United States 29 February 2008 [13]
 United Arab Emirates 15 November 2014 [90]
 United Kingdom March 2010 [91]
 Singapore 18 March 2016 [92]

History and activities

Political situation in Somalia as of October 12, 2014.

While Al-Shabaab previously represented the hard-line militant youth movement within the Islamic Courts Union (ICU),[93] 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, 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.[94]

Their core consisted of veterans who had fought and defeated the secular Mogadishu faction leaders of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) at the Second Battle of Mogadishu. 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 Mukhtar Robow "Abu Manssor".[95]

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.[96] 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.[97]

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 oversized cheap food imports allowed Somalia's own grain production, which normally has high potential, to flourish.[98] 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.[99]

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.[100] 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.[101]

Despite routinely expelling, attacking and harassing aid workers, Al-Shabaab permits some agencies to work in areas under its control. At the height of its territorial control it implemented a system of aid agency regulation, taxation and surveillance. Where agencies are allowed to operate, this is often due to the desire of Al-Shabaab to coopt and materially and politically benefit from the provision of aid and services.[102] Senior aid agency representatives often strongly rejected claims that they talked with Al-Shabaab, while aid workers working in Al-Shabaab controlled areas often reported they directly negotiated with the group out of necessity.[103]

Al-Shabaab was known as the most prominent terrorist-organization in Somalia which was succeeded to clear away from the bigger cities of the state by the end of 2013.[104]

While Al-Shabaab has been reduced in power and size since the beginning of the Kenya Army's Operation Linda Nchi southern incursion, 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.[105] On July 11, 2012, Somali federal troops and their AMISOM allies captured the area from the militants.[106]


The U.S. has asserted that al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda pose a global threat.[107] 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."[108]

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.[96]

Shabaab have persecuted Somalia's small Christian minority, sometimes affixing the label on people they suspect of working for Ethiopian intelligence.[109] 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.[110][111] This has led to confrontations with Sufi organized armed groups who have organized under the banner of Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a.[112]

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."[113] 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.[114]


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.[115] 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".[116] 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.[117]

With money from extortion dwindling in areas like Mogadishu,[118] 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 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 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."[58] 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.[119]

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 he suggested was "a sign al-Shabab is losing cohesion, losing command and control."[120] 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.[121]

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.[122]

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.[123]

Since the start of Operation Indian Ocean in August 2014, over 700 Al-Shabaab militants have surrendered to the Federal Government.[124]

On 27 December 2014, a Somali intelligence officer indicated that senior Al-Shabaab commander Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi ("Zaki") surrendered to local police in the southwestern Gedo province. According to the official, Hersi may have turned himself in after having fallen out earlier in the year with other Al-Shabaab members loyal to the group's late leader Godane.[125] On 8 March 2015, the US government officially removed Zaki from its Rewards for Justice List. The decision was reached after negotiations between the Somali federal government and US authorities, which concluded that the former insurgent commander had met the conditions unambiguously establishing that he was no longer associated with the militant group. This in turn came after Zaki had publicly disavowed ties to Al-Shabaab, renounced violence, and fully took part in the peace process.[126]

On 17 January 2015, Luq District Police Commissioner Siyad Abdulkadir Mohamed announced that Sheikh Osman Sheikh Mohamed, the commander of Al-Shabaab's militia in the Luq area, had turned himself in to the federal authorities. The rebel leader likewise reportedly handed over all of his weaponry. According to the police official, further Al-Shabaab members intend to defect. He also indicated that the federal government welcomes all former insurgents who disavow of the use of violence and instead pledge to take part in the peace process.[127]

On 7 March 2015, the Dhusamareeb administration announced that Al-Shabaab landmine expert Abdullahi Mohamed "Madoobe" had surrendered to government forces stationed in the town. According to the local district commissioner Abdirahman Ali Mohamed "Geeda-Qorow" and police commander Abdullahi Garar, the bomb specialist was subsequently put under their protective custody. Garar indicated that Mohamed had also previously trained as a bodyguard. At a press conference, Mohamed concurrently renounced ties with Al-Shabaab, denounced its ideology, and urged young fighters within the militant group to follow suit and defect.[128]

On March 30, Senior Al-Shabaab officer Bashaan Ali Hassan ("Mohamed Ali") turned himself in to Somali National Army officials in Hudur. According to local residents, the militant leader had served in the insurgent group's Bakool and Lower Shabelle province contingents. SNA commander in Bakool Abdirahman Mohamed Osman "Tima-Adde" indicated that the government forces were conducting a probe to ascertain the circumstances surrounding Hassan's surrender. He also hailed the defection as a major setback for Al-Shabaab and its leadership.[129]




"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[130]

Al-Shabaab proliferates their propaganda through various media. It operates its own radio station, Radio Andalus, and has acquired relay stations and seized other equipment from private radio stations, including some from the BBC. Presenters broadcast in Somali, Arabic, Swahili and English.[131] Besides 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 to recruit young followers. 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.[132] 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.[133]

In addition, Al-Shabaab also uses music to influence and appeal to young followers. According to Robin Wright, "By 2010, almost eight out of every ten soldiers in Somalia's many rebel forces were children," who are especially influenced and susceptible messages conveyed to modern, western-themed music.[134] 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.[135] Hammami's most recent song, "Send Me a Cruise", debuted online on April 9, 2011.[130]

In October 2013 Al-Shabaab issued a propaganda video targeting several British Muslims who had spoken out against Islamist extremism, some of them explicitly against the murder of Lee Rigby.[136] The video urged jihadists in the UK to follow the example of Rigby's killers, to arm themselves if necessary with knives from B&Q.[136] The Muslims named in the video for "selling out"[137] included Mohammed Shafiq, Mohammed Ansar, Usama Hasan and Ajmal Masroor.[136]

In February 2015, Al-Shabaab released another propaganda video calling for attacks on shopping malls in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., including the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada and the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, U.S.[138] Although the group had hitherto only ever launched attacks within East Africa, security at both malls was tightened in response.[139] The Royal Canadian Mounted Police also indicated that there was no evidence of any imminent threat.[138]

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.[140] 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.[141]

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."[142] 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'".[143] 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!"[144]

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".[141]

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.[145] 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".[146]

In January 2013, Twitter suspended Al-Shabaab's English account.[147][148] 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.[148][149] Al-Shabaab later opened a new Twitter account on February 4, 2013.[149] 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.[148] The group later relaunched its English Twitter account on September 11, 2013.[150]

In September 2013, Twitter suspended at least six Al-Shabaab accounts after the outfit ridiculed the Kenyan government's response to the Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi, an attack Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for. The group later re-opened a Twitter account in December, with the explanation that "the aim is to vigorously challenge defamatory reports in the media by presenting an accurate portrayal of the current state of Jihad in Somalia and countering Western, state-sponsored propaganda machines that are paid to demonise the Mujahideen." A Somali government spokesman stated that the Somali authorities were opposed to Al-Shabaab's presence on the social media website, as the group "should not be given the platform to mislead the youth."[151]


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.[152] Group members dismissed the UN declaration of famine in various regions as grossly exaggerated and banned various organizations from providing aid to those regions.[153]

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,[154] 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.[155]

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.[156] In February 2012, the UN declares that Somalia has produced a bumper harvest, and that the famine is over.[157]

Operation Linda Nchi

The Somali National Army (SNA), Somali Police Force (SPF) and their allies have intensified security operations against Al-Shabaab.

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,[158] 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, using various methods 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 eyewitnesses 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.[159] Additionally, Al-Shabaab has been conducting militia parades as a show of force in cities such as Marka.[160]

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.[161]

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 that 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.[162] 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.[163]

Relations with other militant groups


On February 9, 2012, Mukhtar Abu al-Zubair 'Godane' announced in a fifteen-minute video message that Al-Shabaab would be joining the militant Islamist 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."[7] Al-Zawahiri approved and welcomed Al-Shabaab as al-Qaeda's Somalia-based affiliate 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."[164] The merger follows reports about a rift in the leadership,[165] and it coincides with reports about large factions breaking away from Al Shabaab,[166] and up to 500 Al Shabaab fighters fleeing or leaving southern Somalia for Yemen,[167] where a full Al Qaeda branch AQAP is stepping up operations, under perceived increased military pressure since a new president took office.[168] Somalia's Transitional Federal Government officially recognized the two Islamist groups as one group.[169]

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.[170]

In response to Godane's announced name change and merger with al-Qaeda, all other Shabaab top leaders called a conference in Baidabo.[171] 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 Shura 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.[172][173] 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."[174]

This open revolt against al-Qaeda made it more likely that Al-Shabaab would slowly become ready for some sort of negotiated entente.[175] On 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.[176] Aweys was appointed military commander of Kismayo and the south.[177]

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.[178] He was later taken into custody in Mogadishu by Somali government forces.[179] 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.[180]

AQIM and Boko Haram

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.[181] Ham added that he believed that the collaboration presented a threat to both U.S. homeland security and the local authorities.[182] 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.[181] In May 2014, Senior Al-Shabab member Fuad Shongole stated that al-Shabab fighters would carry out jihad, or holy war, in Kenya and Uganda "and afterward, with God's will, to America."[183]

Hizbul Islam

On September 24, 2012, Hizbul Islam spokesman Mohamed Moallim announced that his group was discontinuing its association with Al-Shabaab, a 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.[184][185]

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Starting in early 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) released a series of videos online aimed at al-Shabaab, calling on the group to switch allegiances from al-Qaeda to ISIL’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.[186] By September 2015, Al-Shabab issued an internal memo aimed at pro-ISIL elements in its ranks, stating that the group’s policy is to continue its allegiance to al-Qaida, and banned any discussion relating to ISIL. The group also detained some of its fighters who had voiced support for ISIL.[187]

In October 2015, senior al-Shabaab commander Abdiqadir Mumin and approximately 20 of his followers in the Puntland region pledged allegiance to ISIL.[188] Further defections in al-Shabaab ranks occurred in the border region between Somalia and Northern Kenya.[189] In November 2015, a pro-ISIL commander called Hussein Abdi Gedi was ambushed and killed, and at least 9 al-Shabaab fighters were killed in fighting between the two factions. The head of al-Shabab in the Lower Shabelle region, Abu Abdalla, gave an interview in which he said that all pro-ISIL members should leave the group or be killed.[190]


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,[191] 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, Mukhtar Robow (Abu Mansur).[191] Additionally, a $3 million bounty was reserved for the senior commander Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi.[125]

On June 8, Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) released an official statement expressing support for the initiative.[191]

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.[191]

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 anyone 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 apiece for information on two American senior Al-Shabaab commanders, Abu Mansour al-Amriki (Omar Shafik Hammami) and Jehad Serwan Mostafa.[192]

On March 15, 2014, the U.S. Department of State also began offering bounties of up to $3 million apiece for information leading to the arrest or conviction of the Al-Shabaab senior members Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, Yasin Kilwe and Jafar. According to State Department officials, Abdikadir coordinates Al-Shabaab's recruitment activities in Kenya, with Jafar acting as his deputy; Kilwe serves as Al-Shabaab's Emir for the northeastern Puntland region. The bounties are part of the "Rewards for Justice" program, wherein money is issued for leads on terror suspects.[193]

On September 27, 2014, the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) offered a $2 million reward to any individual who provides information leading to the arrest of the new Al-Shabaab leader, Ahmed Omar Abu Ubeyda. According to the NISA Commander Abdirahman Mohamed Turyare, a separate $1 million would be rewarded to any person who supplies information that could result in the killing of Ubeyda. Turyare also pledged that the informers' identities would be kept private. This is reportedly the first time that a Somalia security official is offering such large dead-or-alive bounties on an Al-Shabaab leader.[194]

On April 3, 2015, the Kenyan government offered a 20 million Kenyan shillings ($215,000) reward for the arrest of Mohamed Mohamud, who serves as a commander of Al-Shabaab operations in Kenya.[83]

On April 10, 2015, the Federal Government of Somalia offered a $250,000 reward for the capture of Al-Shabaab commander Ahmed Diriye. It also placed bounties of between $100,000 to $150,000 for information on the whereabouts or leading to the arrest of several other of the militant group's leaders, including Mahad Warsame Galay (Mahad Karate), Ali Mohamed Raage (Ali Dhere), Abdullahi Abdi (Daud Suheyb), Mohamed Mohamud Noor “Sultan”, Ali Mohamed Hussein (Ali Jeesto), Mohamed Mohamud (Gama-Dhere), Hassan Mohamed Afgoye, Mohamed Abdi Muse Mohamed, Yasin Osman Kilwa and Abdullahi Osman. Additionally, the federal government indicated that any leads forwarded to it vis-a-vis the wanted insurgent commanders would be kept strictly confidential.[195]

Support allegations


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.[196] 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.[197][198] 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.[196] 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.[199]

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.[200] 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."[201]


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.[202] 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.[203]

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.

Atom and his men were reportedly hiding out and receiving medical attention in Somaliland after being pursued by Puntland forces in late 2010.[204] 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.[205] 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.[206]

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.[204]

Kenyan forces have been working hand in hand to fight the war against Al Shabaab in the region. The total death toll on Al Shabaab is 1,392 since 2015.[207]

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