Despite Somali Setbacks, Al-Shabaab Remains a Regional Threat

Despite Somali Setbacks, Al-Shabaab Remains a Regional ThreatDespite Somali Setbacks, Al-Shabaab Remains a Regional Threat

Al-Shabaab’s massacre at Garissa University College in northeastern Kenya last week is evidence that despite recent military setbacks in its Somali heartland the Islamist group has lost none of its ability to hurt its enemies abroad.

The attack, which authorities say claimed the lives of 148 people, was the al Qaeda-linked group’s deadliest on Kenyan soil. It is further evidence that al-Shabaab, which is fighting to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in Somalia, is a versatile organization that remains a regional threat despite international strikes targeting its Somali heartland.

“What they’ve proven is that they’re adaptable. They are a small but disciplined organization,” Cedric Barnes, Horn of Africa Project director for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, told FRANCE 24.

  Rise and Decline in Somalia

Al-Shabaab, which means “the youth” in Arabic, first formed in Somalia in 2006 as the youth militia of a now defunct alliance of sharia courts known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).

By 2007 it was considered enough of a threat that the African Union approved a major mission (the African Union Mission in Somalia or AMISOM) to protect Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government. At the height of its power, the Islamist militant group controlled almost two-thirds of Somalia, including the capital, Mogadishu.

In 2010, al-Shabaab carried out its first attacks outside Somalia’s borders, coordinating near simultaneous suicide bombings at two different venues in Uganda’s capital Kampala, where crowds had gathered to watch the World Cup. Seventy-four people were killed. Uganda was the first country to send troops to Somalia under AMISOM in 2007.

The following year marked a turning point in al-Shabaab’s battle for control of Somalia.

Weakened by AMISOM forces and famine, the group announced that it was withdrawing from Mogadishu in August, 2011.

Since then, al-Shabaab has seen its forces and territory steadily decline. In 2012, it lost the port of Kismayo, the last major town under its control and a key source of revenue for the group.

Last year its leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in a US air strike.