Al-Shabaab: Terror in Horn of Africa

by Glorianne Besana

Al-Shabaab may pale in comparison to the exposure and media coverage that ISIS receives, but this jihadist terrorist group has equally destructive plans for East Africa. Like ISIS, Al-Shabaab has its roots within a civil war. In this case the Somali Civil War, which lasted from 2006-2009. Originally a part of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a Sharia group of courts meant to oppose the administration of the Transitional Federal Parliament of the Somali Republic.[1] ICU controlled much of Southern Somalia. Al-Shabaab splintered from ICU, becoming even more driven by extremism. They identify as a militant youth group and have released footage pledging allegiance to Al Qaeda.[2]

Kenya has felt the brunt of their mission with an alarmingly high body count of Kenyans due to Al-Shabaab attacks. In April 2015 Al-Shabaab turned their eye at Garissa University in Garissa, Kenya.[3] Once deemed a safe spot they took over the campus and took hundreds of students hostage, letting Muslims go and killing Christians. The attack lasted about fifteen hours and left 147 dead and others injured. When ISIS claimed the Paris attacks later in November 2015, information about the Garissa University went viral. Many criticized Western media for the extensive coverage on Paris, pointing out that the attack in Kenya claimed more lives yet was only receiving attention after a first world country became the location of a coordinated terrorist plan. Their singling out of Christians during attacks have been noted and the group has gone so far to block anything deemed as Christian propaganda from the area. Their opposition against the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) is under Al-Shabaab’s stance to fight anyone who is an enemy of Islam.[4] AMISOM and Al-Shabaab have been at odds with each other since 2011. Since AMISOM is a peacekeeping organization they have been taking back cities and towns previous under Al-Shabaab rule. Presently, Al-Shabaab continues to survive and terrorize in East Africa, specifically in rural areas. The lost their once dominant presence in cities and towns as the result of an active campaign conducted by the Kenya and the internationally backed Somali provisional government.

The United States, AMISOM, and the Somali military have been collaborating under Operation Indian Ocean.[5] This is an ongoing mission dedicated to the opposition of Al-Shabaab, and there have been successes. In September of 2014, U.S. drones killed Al-Shabaab’s then leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane. Since then, Operation Indian Ocean has been taking down Al-Shabaab’s leaders and commanders. Since Operation Indian Ocean’s start there have been over 700 surrenders and various defections.

The fight against Al-Shabaab has been a group effort between numerous countries, all in hope for peace in the region. Analysts predict the eventual disintegration of Al-Shabaab due to the successful attacks claiming important leaders’ lives. Until then the efforts to stop Al-Shabaab’s presence in the area remain active and will hopefully be successful at defending those that Al-Shabaab wants to destroy in the name of the global jihad.

[1], “National Counterterrorism Center | Groups,”

[2] CNN Wire Staff, “Al-Shabaab Joining Al Qaeda, Monitor Group Says,” CNN (February 9, 2012):

[3] BBC News, “Kenya Attack: 147 Dead In Garissa University Assault,” BBC News (April 3, 2015):

[4] AMISOM, “Joint Security Update On Operation Indian Ocean By Somali Government and AMISOM – AMISOM,” AMISOM (October 29, 2014):

[5] Muhyadin, Roble, “Al-Shabaab: On The Back Foot But Still Dangerous,” The Jamestown Foundation (January 23, 2015):

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