Who are al-Shabab?
- “Al-Shabab” means The Youth in Arabic. It emerged as the radical youth wing of Somalia’s now-defunct Union of Islamic Courts in 2006, as it fought Ethiopian forces who had entered Somalia to back the weak interim government.
- It has imposed a strict version of Sharia law* in areas under its control, including stoning to death women accused of adultery and amputating the hands of thieves. Estimated to have 7,000 to 9,000 fighters
- Al-Shabab advocates the Saudi-inspired Wahhabi* version of Islam, while most Somalis are Sufis*. Al-Shabab has destroyed a large number of Sufi shrines, causing its popularity to further plummet.
- Was forced out of the capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011 and left the vital port of Kismayo in September 2012. Kismayo had been a key asset for the militants, allowing supplies to reach areas under their control and providing taxes for their operations.
- Al-Shabab still carries out fairly frequent suicide attacks in Mogadishu* and elsewhere.
- Analysts believe al-Shabab is focusing on guerrilla warfare to counter the firepower of AU* forces.
- Kenya accused al-Shabab fighters of kidnapping tourists. As a result, Kenyan forces have been in the forefront of the push against al-Shabab in the south up to Kismayo.
- Ahmed Abdi Godane is the head of the group. Known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, he comes from the northern breakaway region of Somaliland. His predecessor, Moalim Aden Hashi Ayro, was killed in a US airstrike in 2008.
- Al-Shabab joined al-Qaeda in February 2012. In a joint video, al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane said he “pledged obedience” to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
- Eritrea is its only regional ally. Eritrea supports al-Shabab to counter the influence of Ethiopia, its bitter enemy.
*Sharia Law: The moral code and religious law of Islam. Sharia deals with many topics addressed by secular law, including crime, politics and economics as well as personal matters such as sexual intercourse, hygiene, diet, prayer and fasting. Though interpretations of sharia vary between cultures, in its strictest definition it is considered the infallible law of God—as opposed to the human interpretation of the laws
*Wahhabi: An ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam (though some people dispute that a Wahhabi is a Sunni). It is a religious movement among fundamentalist Islamic believers, with an aspiration to return to the earliest fundamental Islamic sources of the Quran and Hadith, with inspiration from the teachings of Medieval theologian Ibn Taymiyyah and early jurist Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.
*Mogadishu: Capital of Somalia
*AU: A union consisting of 54 African States. The only all-African state not in the AU is Morocco. The AU was established on 26 May 2001 in Addis Ababa and launched on 9 July 2002 in South Africa to replace the Organization of African Unity (OAU).