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Al Shabaab


Harakat al-Shabaab   is the Somalia-based cell of the militant Islamist group al-Qaeda, formally recognized in 2012.[4] As of 2012, the outfit controls large swathes of the southern parts of the country,[5] where it is said to have imposed its own strict form of Sharia (law).[6] Al-Shabaab's troop strength as of May 2011 was estimated at 14,426 militants.[7] In February 2012, Al-Shabaab leaders quarreled with Al-Qaeda over the union,[8] and quickly lost ground.[9]

The group is an off-shoot of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which splintered into several smaller factions after its defeat in 2006 by the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the TFG's Ethiopian military allies.[10] Al-Shabaab describes itself as waging jihadagainst "enemies of Islam", and is engaged in combat against the TFG and the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Alleging ulterior motives on the part of foreign organizations, group members have also reportedly intimidated, kidnapped and killed aid workers, leading to a suspension of humanitarian operations and an exodus of relief agents.[11] Al-Shabaab has been designated a terrorist organization by several Western governments and security services.[12][13][14] As of June 2012, the US State Department has open bounties on several of the outfit's senior commanders.[15]

In early August 2011, the TFG's troops and their AMISOM allies reportedly managed to capture all of Mogadishu from the Al-Shabaab militants.[5] An ideological rift within the group's leadership also emerged in response to pressure from the recent drought and the assassination of top officials in the organization.[16] Al Shabaab is hostile to Sufi traditions and has often clashed with the militant Sufigroup Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a.[17][18][19][20] The outfit has also been suspected of having links with Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram. While Al-Shabaab previously represented the hard-line militant youth movement within the Islamic Courts Union (ICU),[66]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, Sheikh 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.[67]

Their core consisted of veterans who had fought and defeated the secular Mogadishu warlords of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) at the Second Battle of Mogadishu.[68] 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 Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Abu Manssor.[69]

In January 2009, Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia and Al-Shabaab carried on its fight against former ally andIslamic Courts Union leader, President Sharif Ahmed, who was the head of the Transitional Federal Government.[6] 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.[70]

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 over-sized cheap food imports allowed Somalia's own grain production, which normally has high potential, to flourish.[71] 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.[72]

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.[73] 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 outfit. 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.[74]

While Al-Shabaab has been reduced in power and size since the beginning of the coordinated operation against it by the Somalian military and the Kenyan army, the group has continued its efforts at recruitment and territorial control. The outfit 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.[75] On July 11, 2012, Somali federal troops and their AMISOM allies captured the area from the militants.[76]
Opposition[edit]

The U.S. has asserted that al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda pose a global threat.[77] 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."

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.[6]

Shabaab have persecuted Somalia's small Christian minority, sometimes affixing the label on people they suspect of working for Ethiopian intelligence.[78] 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.[79][80] This has led to confrontations with Sufi organized armed groups who have organized under the banner of Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a.[81]

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.”[82] 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.[83]
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