Africa’s lesser known terror nightmare: The story of Al-Shabaab
Photograph: Flickr / AMISOM Public Information
Over the past few months, the entire world has been rigidly focused on Syria; the exodus of millions of refugees, and the increasing depravity of Islamic State (IS) have dominated the world of current affairs almost completely. This has been intensified by the recent attacks in the city of Paris, in which 130 civilians were killed by IS gunmen in several locations across the city. As well as being shocking in its own right, the instability and threat emanating from Syria (and indeed, many other parts of the Middle East), has served to overshadow terrorism elsewhere in the world. In terms of fatality figures, IS isn’t the deadliest terror organisation (that title belongs to Nigerian-based Islamist group Boko Haram), but due to the frequency and gruesomeness of their terrorist activity, IS has almost unequivocally become the most terrifying to Europeans.
Al Shabaab is an Al Qaeda linked group based in Somalia. With the decline of Siad Barre’s government in 1991 and the collapse of order, Al Shabaab found the perfect conditions to flourish. Somalia had no internationally-recognised secure government, and in 2006, Al Shabaab (‘The Youth’, in Arabic), was founded as a militant offshoot of the Islamic Courts Union. Vast portions of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, were captured by the Islamists after vicious gunfights against tribal militias occupying the regions. By July 2006, Al Shabaab and other Islamist militias controlled the whole of Mogadishu and much of the South of the country. In the controlled areas, Al Shabaab imposed strict Sharia law, which included the prohibition of smoking, bra wearing and many kinds of sport considered ‘un-Islamic’.
However, in December 2006, Ethiopian troops, in allegiance with the new Somali transitional government, managed to push Al Shabaab out of Mogadishu, and in 2007, the Islamist group withdrew from the southern port of Kismayo – their last stronghold. Soon after the Ethiopians left in 2009 however, the Islamists regained many of their formerly lost strongholds. In 2010, a famine took hold of Somalia, causing over 250,000 deaths according to the UN. The World Food Programme was driven out by Al Shabaab, causing innumerable unnecessary death. Al Shabaab’s control waxed and waned between 2010 and 2013, until they were finally driven once again out of Kismayo by Kenyan and African Union troops.
Having been forced out in no small part by the Kenyans, the remnants of Al Shabaab sought to take revenge on Kenya, and on September 20th 2013, the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi was attacked by the Islamists, resulting in at least 67 civilian deaths. The group declared the attack as a retaliation against Kenyan intervention in Somalia. This year, Garissa University College in northern Kenya (close to the border with Somalia) was also attacked, in which 148 students were killed. The militants stormed the university and took over 700 students hostage – freeing those who claimed to be Muslims, and killing those who identified as Christians.
Today, the problem is not showing signs of remission. On the 31st of October 2015, the Jihadist group besieged the upmarket Sahafi Hotel in Mogadishu – a popular destination for government officials, business executives and politicians. A minibus packed with explosives was driven into the front gates of the hotel early in the morning, and a 5 hour long gunfight ensued, in which at least 15 people were killed. The aforementioned information illustrates how even a lesser known terrorist organisation poses a great threat to world security. Al Shabaab have had more success in the past than many other Jihadist organisations in forcing Sharia law onto oppressed citizens. This is the same as what IS want to impose upon the west, and the methods of achieving this end are similar in their depravity. It is therefore crucial to realise that IS are not the only Islamist threat to the free world. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that, if the threat of global terrorism is to be combatted, all advocates of the ideology must be resisted – not just the ones closest to home.