- Full name: Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (Movement of Warrior Youth. Often abbreviated as HSM). Commonly known as al-Shabaab (The Youth), and sometimes referred to in media reports as al-Shabab. 1
- A report by the Council on Foreign Relations notes that “Many analysts say the group is not monolithic and its objectives vary.”
This may explain why the group is known by so many names, including: al-Shabaab al-Islamiya, al Shabaab al-Islaam, al-Shabaab al-Jihad, MYM, Mujahidin Youth, Hizbul Shabaab, Hisb’ul Shabaab, the Youth, Mujahidin al Shabaab Movement, Mujahideen Youth Movement, the Unity of Islamic Youth, the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations.
Islamic scholars are said to have suggested that al-Shabaab change its name to ‘the Islamic Emirate.’ 2
- Note that Shabaab is Arabic for ‘youth’. Therefore not every group with ‘shabaab’ in its name is affiliated with the movement discussed here.
- al-Shabaab is one of many Islamic terrorist groups fighting for control of Somalia, where it wants to establish an extreme form of sharia (Islamic law)
- This movement adheres to a militant Islamist ideology, and uses terrorism as one of the means to further its goals
- al-Shabaab is allied with al-Queda
- In January 2010 a man linked to al-Shabaab attempted to kill Kurt Westergaard, the Swedish cartoonist whose drawing of Muhammed with a lit fuse sticking out of bomb-shaped headgear greatly upset Muslims around the world.
- In September, 2013, members of the group attacked a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya — killing at least 62 people. After the attack, U.S. President Barack Obama referred to Al-Shabaab as “one of the most vicious terrorist organizations in the world.”
Al Shabaab has been designated as a terrorist organization by Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the USA.
The government of Canada lists al-Shabaab as a terrorist group, saying it is “an organized but shifting Islamist group dedicated to establishing a Somali caliphate, waging war against the enemies of Islam, and removing all foreign forces and Western influence from Somalia.” 3
The U.S. Department of State, in its statement announcing the group had been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, said, “Al-Shabaab is a violent and brutal extremist group with a number of individuals affiliated with al-Qaida.” 4
Al Shabaab’s Increasing Power
Analyst Mark Schroeder examines al Shabaab’s takeover of Hizbul Islam preceding the announcement that more African Union peacekeepers will be sent to Somalia — Dec. 22, 2010.
September 2013 Attack in Nairobi, Kenya
Al Jazeera examines the regional implication of Al- Shabaab’s September, 2013 attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya:
CNN broadcasted Inside Al-Shabab:
This video is part of a series of reports covering Al-Shabab’s September, 2013, attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya.
Somalia: traditionally moderate and tolerant
A BBC reporter interviewed an al-Shabaab cell leader who said he had two aims: “to become a martyr and to ensure that the country is governed by Sharia law.”
“As al-Shabab, we don’t care about people who don’t want Sharia law,” he says.
“Our goal is to have Sharia as the permanent law of our country, and to get the infidels out of our country, whether they are Ethiopians or Americans.”
– Source: Rob Walker, Meeting Somalia’s Islamist insurgents BBC, Apr. 28, 2008
But Walker notes, Somalia has always enjoyed a moderate, tolerant form of Islam — and many Somalis do not share al-Shabaab’s vision for an Islamic society based on extremism.
Yet, the group’s violence ensures that few people speak out:
In 10 years of visiting Somalia, what is really striking is not just the growth in extremism in the country but the fear among ordinary Somalis to talk about it.
al-Shabaab’s wider reach
In 2010, Max Fisher said in The Atlantic that al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda have little in common.
While both are violently Islamist, only al-Qaeda is ideology-driven, espouses global ambitions, and a has history of terrorism simply for the sake of killing. Al-Shabaab seeks only to rule Somalia and to impose an extreme form of Islamic law. 5
Fisher speculated as to why the group claimed responsibility for a series of July, 2010 bombings in Kampala, Uganda, in which more than 70 people died.
“The decision to bomb civilian gatherings in Kampala was almost certainly tactical,” he wrote, suggesting that there were two possible explanations:
The first is that al-Shabaab is feeling increasingly threatened by the African Union force and is desperate to forestall or prevent the planned addition of 2,000 peacekeepers. […]
The other possibility is that al-Shabaab is stronger than we think and that this attack is the beginning of a push to expand its reach.
Then, in February, 2012, the group merged with al-Queda. 6
A year later, in September, 2013, al-Shabaab terrorists carried out an armed attack in a Nairobi, Kenya, shopping mail. The Red Cross confirmed 68 fatalities and 120 people injured. The attack came in retaliation to the 2011 decision by the Kenyan government to join Somalia in its fight againt al-Shabaaab. 7 8
- Al-Shabab Backgrounder by the Council on Foreign Relations. A thorough report that among other things provides an interactive timeline; looks at Al-Shabab’s leaders, objectives, and funding; and explains U.S. policy in Somalia. (Updated September, 2013)
- The Terror Threat from Somalia: The Internationalization of Al Shabaab Report by the Critical Threats Project of the American Enterprise Institute. (Feb. 12, 2010). 50 pages plus notes.
- Q&A: Who are Somalia’s al-Shabab? BBC background information
- Religion News Blog keeps track of news articles about Al Shabaab
- New York Times’ Al-Shabab News Tracker
- Variations in spellings usually are the result of difficulties in the transliteration of Arabic to English ↩
- Information in a cache of documents found by the Associated Press on the floor in a building occupied by al-Qaida fighters for almost a year in Timbuktu, Mali. See the papers referred to at the end of this story ↩
- Public Safety Canada, Currently Listed Entities. Last accessed, Tuesday, September 24, 2013 – 8:52 AM CET ↩
- U.S. Department of State, Designation of Al-Shabaab, March 18, 2008. ↩
- Max Fisher, Why al-Shabaab Would Attack in Uganda, The Atlantic, July 12, 2010 ↩
- al-Shabaab merges with al-Queda, Wikipedia ↩
- Franz Wild & Sarah McGregor, Kenya Raid Is First Regional Strike by New Somali Rebel Head, Bloomberg, Sep. 25, 2013 ↩
- Most hostages rescued, most parts of shopping mall secure: Kenyan army ↩