Al-Shabab’s attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in September 2013 raised important questions about the resilience and possible resurgence of a jihadist group that most believed had fallen on hard times since 2011. Some questioned whether the attack was evidence that al-Shabab had become a more dangerous transnational threat, while others suggested it was an act of desperation by the beleaguered group.[1] This question has taken on even more urgency in the wake of al-Shabab’s bold terrorist attack on Somalia’s presidential palace, Villa Somalia, on February 21, 2014.

This article examines the state of al-Shabab today and the significance of the Westgate mall attack. It begins with a review of the troubles that have afflicted al-Shabab in the past several years, and then explores the new nature of the organization, its aims, the types of threats it poses, and its future prospects. It finds that al-Shabab is a franchise with distinct components, the fastest growing of which is a wing that identifies as much with East Africa as Somalia. The group is simultaneously weaker and, at least in the short term, more dangerous in Kenya and Somalia.

Al-Shabab’s Troubles
Some analysts had concluded that al-Shabab was in decline and in “dramatic turmoil” because the group’s meteoric rise in 2007 was followed by several years of eroded public support, internal divisions, and self-inflicted wounds.[2]

Al-Shabab constituted a powerful Islamo-nationalist insurgency in 2007-2008 when it emerged as the main armed resistance against an Ethiopian military occupation of southern Somalia.[3] It enjoyed considerable support from a broad section of Somali society at home and in the large Somali diaspora, from which it raised funds and attracted recruits.[4] It also enjoyed sympathy and support from individuals in the wider Islamic world, and absorbed several hundred foreign jihadists into its ranks.[5] Although not formally an al-Qa`ida franchise during this time, al-Shabab benefited from public relations support and advisers from al-Qa`ida.[6] By mid-2008, it was able to recapture most of the territory of south-central Somalia as well as most of the capital Mogadishu, pinning Ethiopian forces, African Union peacekeepers, and the weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG) down in a few districts of the city. Within a two year period, al-Shabab had ascended from a small and little-known armed group to one of the most successful and high visibility jihadist movements in the world.[7]

The year 2008 was its high water mark, however. During the next three years, al-Shabab’s progress stalled. It was unable to dislodge the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers and the TFG from the capital, and it took heavy losses trying to fight AMISOM’s better equipped forces, which alienated clans that suffered the most casualties.[8] Its draconian interpretations of Shari`a (Islamic law) and rule by fear proved unpopular among Somalis, and this led to defections.[9] The group’s suicide bombing attacks—which included targeting newly-graduated medical doctors and students lining up for scholarships—demonstrated a callous indifference to civilian casualties and further alienated Somalis.[10] Aid and support from the diaspora shrank, in part because al-Shabab was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government and others in 2008, creating high legal risks for financial backers. Whole clans, including two particularly large and powerful lineages (the Habar Gidir Ayr and the Ogaden), broke from al-Shabab and began fighting it.[11] Reports of internal splits in al-Shabab’s leadership—principally over tactics, clan interests, affiliation with al-Qa`ida, and policies toward international aid agencies—increased.[12]

Al-Shabab’s fortunes slid quickly in 2011. In June of that year, a top al-Qa`ida figure working with al-Shabab, Fazul Abdullah Mohammad, was killed in a checkpoint shoot-out that was widely believed to be a set-up by his rival in al-Shabab, Ahmed “Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr” Godane.[13] This incident, along with the 2012 death of UK-born jihadist Bilal al-Berjawi and several other foreign jihadists, prompted an exodus of many foreign fighters who believed that Godane was purging non-Somali leaders, and as a consequence these foreign fighters no longer trusted their Somali counterparts.[14] That same year, al-Shabab presided over one of the worst famines in two decades, which cost 260,000 Somali lives.[15] The group damaged its reputation among Somalis by blocking international food aid from entering most of its areas of control, denying that a famine existed, and by seeking to prevent famine victims in rural southern Somalia from traveling to areas where aid was available.[16] One analyst concluded that “the political cost [of blocking food aid] was tremendous” for al-Shabab.[17] In the summer of 2011, al-Shabab also withdrew from most of the areas of Mogadishu it had controlled, conceding that it was too costly to wage conventional war against AMISOM. During the ensuing year, Mogadishu enjoyed a boom of new development and real estate construction fueled by returning diaspora members, a sharp and public rebuke of the group.[18] Al-Shabab was subsequently pushed out of most of the remaining urban centers under its control, including from the strategic port city of Kismayo in October 2012, which had been al-Shabab’s principal source of revenue.[19]

In June 2013, a bloody internal battle broke out within al-Shabab, culminating in a major purge. This internecine blood-letting was the culmination of years of mounting internal rifts between Godane and a growing number of his critics within al-Shabab, who publicly criticized him for killing “true Muslims,” committing strategic blunders, and having dictatorial tendencies.[20] In some ways, what was surprising is how long the group managed to remain  cohesive before the clashes occurred.[21] The purge is thought to have killed an estimated 200 members of al-Shabab’s feared “Amniyat” network—described by a recent United Nations report as al-Shabab’s “‘secret service,’ which is structured along the lines of a clandestine organization within the organization.”[22] Al-Shabab leaders opposing Godane met different fates. Top al-Shabab figures Ibrahim al-Afghani and Maa’lim Hashi were executed; American Omar Hammani (Abu Mansur al-Amriki) was killed; Shaykh Mukhtar Robow escaped and remains at large; and Hassan Dahir Aweys fled but was captured by pro-government militias, handed over to the Somali Federal Government (SFG), and placed under arrest.[23] The hard-liner Godane consolidated his control over a smaller, weaker, but now more unrestrained al-Shabab.[24]

The New Al-Shabab
Even prior to its disastrous in-fighting in 2013, al-Shabab was morphing into an entity quite different from the jihadist force it represented in 2007-2008. As the group ceded control of most urban centers, its tactics shifted toward asymmetrical warfare, featuring greater reliance on suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices, hit-and-run attacks, political threats and assassinations, and grenade attacks. This allowed it to fight AMISOM and its Somali enemies on its terms, and put fewer of its fighters at risk.[25] To execute these tactics, the group relied increasingly on its Amniyat network.[26] This shift in tactics hinted at a change in al-Shabab’s wider strategy, which focused on the role of a spoiler—blocking any progress by the federal government, preventing normalization of life in the capital, and harassing AMISOM with the aim of eventually driving it out of the country.[27]

The group’s tactical shift also included an emphasis on collusion with its erstwhile enemies in Somalia, resulting in head-spinning deals and tactical alliances that have confounded external actors attempting to defeat the group. This included al-Shabab temporarily cooperating with the Somali national armed forces in common cause against Kenyan forces and the Ogaden clan militia (known as the Ras Kamboni militia) after the latter captured the seaport of Kismayo from al-Shabab in October 2012, and then subsequent al-Shabab collusion with Kenyan forces and the Ras Kamboni militia in illegal charcoal exports out of Kismayo seaport.[28] The group is rumored to have a number of other mixed relationships with rival Somali actors, the result of extortion, penetration, or shared interests in making money or temporarily avoiding conflict.[29] A confidential UN Monitoring Group report in February 2014 charged that arms provided to the Somali government were being channeled to al-Shabab, suggesting collusion at high levels in the government.[30] Battle lines are not as clear as they appear to be in Somalia due to al-Shabab’s extensive collusion with and penetration of rivals.[31]

Al-Shabab also shifted its recruitment tactics. Having lost much of its core base of support among the strongest clans, it began courting support from marginalized, aggrieved sub-clans and minority groups, a tactic which continues to work well for the group.[32] It also coerced recruits, which backfired, producing desertions, low morale, and community resentment. In addition, its recruiting energies were redirected toward Kenya, again targeting the marginalized. These included: poor slum-dwellers in Nairobi, who were convinced to convert to Islam and wage jihad; Somali Kenyans, many of whom feel they are second-class citizens; and Swahili coastal Muslims who feel dominated by “up-country” Kenyan Christians.[33] Al-Shabab’s messaging began to include Swahili language as part of this campaign, and paid off with 200-500 East African recruits in training camps in the Jubba valley of Somalia.[34] This effort was, in retrospect, the beginning of al-Shabab “franchising” into East Africa, and the start of its new role as a voice for the marginalized.

Al-Shabab also shifted its attention to “taxation”—involving a combination of willing support, extortion, and partnership—of businesses operating in south-central Somalia, as well as international humanitarian agencies and local non-governmental organizations.[35] Refusal to pay risked lethal reprisal, and nearly everyone in the private sector or the aid industry was compelled, directly or indirectly, to contribute to al-Shabab’s coffers.[36] This gave the group a diversified source of revenue that sustained it after losing diaspora contributions and seaport revenues from Kismayo.

Finally, the group expanded its network and operations beyond south-central Somalia, both into East Africa and northern Somalia. This site expansion served it well when it began losing territory and support in south-central Somalia.

Disaggregating Al-Shabab
The result of these changes is an al-Shabab today that manifests itself in several different forms. Disaggregating al-Shabab is helpful in clarifying the kinds of threats it now poses. These different manifestations include:

Al-Shabab as a Network: Amniyat
The clandestine Amniyat network remains the most intact and feared part of the organization, and according to some observers is the main base of support for Godane, answering directly to him.[37] Some of Amniyat’s operatives pose as secularized Somalis and assume roles across the full spectrum of Somali society, including in positions in the SFG and foreign missions.[38] It serves as both an effective intelligence network and an operational arm of al-Shabab, with units specializing in assassinations, explosives, and hit-and-run attacks.[39] Amniyat’s reach is now felt in previously peaceful parts of northern Somalia, such as in Puntland, where al-Shabab related attacks are occurring on an almost daily basis.

Al-Shabab as an Armed Force
The military command of al-Shabab, known as Jaysh al-Usra (the Army of Hardship), was estimated to control 5,000 fighters before the recent in-fighting. Al-Shabaab’s fighting units—including irregulars who can be called up for “pay as you go” missions[40]—are mainly composed of young recruits, and have not proven to be especially capable in the face of superior AMISOM forces. This group is more fluid than Amniyat, includes some fighters who have joined mainly for a paycheck, and has seen its share of desertions or defections. Yet it has also contributed “martyrs” to recent hybrid al-Shabab terrorist attacks involving both suicide bombers and suicide infantry.[41]

Al-Shabab as an Administration
Although al-Shabab does not take on the role of a state within a state in its area of control, it continues to provide basic administration, including oversight of education and health sectors, policing, judicial, and arbitration roles.[42] In consequence, communities under its control consistently enjoy higher levels of law and order than when “liberated” by AMISOM and left to deal with Somali national armed forces that are predatory and poorly controlled.[43] Al-Shabab’s ability to provide basic law and order continues to attract some Somalis in the countryside. This branch of al-Shabab, however, has been weakened with the group’s loss of territory.

Al-Shabab as a Criminal Racket
The group’s systematic collection of “taxes” on Somali businesses is little more than extortion, and points to the fact that the group is acting increasingly like a mafia in much of the country.  Al-Shabab has not degenerated into a criminal racket the way many protracted insurgencies do, but there are signs that the group is moving in that direction, including alleged involvement in illicit smuggling of ivory.[44] Roland Marchal’s close analysis of the group concluded that the main source of al-Shabab’s finances today is “protection money.”[45]

Al-Shabab as an East Africa Franchise
Al-Shabab’s East Africa affiliate, al-Hijra, consists of hundreds of recruits from Kenya and neighboring countries who have trained under the al-Shabab flag in Somalia but whose grievances and targets are in East Africa. This wing of al-Shabab executed the July 2010 bombings in Kampala,  Uganda, that killed 74 people, an attack attributed to al-Shabab but involving a group of terrorists that included only one Somali. Al-Hijra group is the subject of intense Kenyan and Western counterterrorism efforts, especially since the Westgate bombing. Previously viewed as “fumbling and amateurish operationally,” the group has gained sophistication and discipline.[46] The extent to which al-Shabab’s leadership exercises direct control over this network is difficult to determine. Yet the various constituencies of the East Africa wing—the Nairobi slum recruits, the Swahili coastal recruits, and the Somali Kenyan recruits—are widely viewed as among the most dangerous in the al-Shabab franchise, in part because they can more easily access soft targets in East Africa.[47] The group has also exerted influence and even indirect control over critical areas inside Kenya, most notably the Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi (a slum heavily populated by ethnic Somalis) and the border town of Mandera.[48]

Al-Shabab as a Global Icon
Al-Shabab’s global reputation is tarnished, and its global network clearly weakened in recent years, but it may have been partially revived with the high visibility Westgate attack. The group still enjoys some support from the Somali diaspora and is known to have links to al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula and Boko Haram.[49]

Al-Shabab as a Voice of the Disenfranchised
The group’s turn since 2008 toward recruiting from marginalized groups in Somalia and East Africa gives it a powerful “Robin Hood” narrative and a deep pool of grievances upon which to draw across the region.

Threat Assessment: Westgate and Beyond
Critical details of the Westgate mall attack are still either in dispute or not in the public domain, so caution must be used when drawing conclusions about the attack and what it suggests about al-Shabab. Still, some observations can be made.

First, the attack was only the latest and most deadly incident in a pattern that had already been set by al-Shabab’s East Africa wing when it launched twin terrorist bombings in Kampala, Uganda, in July 2010. That was the first instance of spillover of the current insurgency and counterinsurgency violence in Somalia into neighboring states that have armed forces inside Somalia.

The presence of Kenyan military forces inside Somalia (now reframed as part of AMISOM) served as a powerful pretext for the attack, allowing al-Shabab to justify the act of terrorism as retaliation for Kenyan forces “bombing innocent people” in Somalia and to demand a Kenyan withdrawal or face additional attacks.[50] Yet fears that al-Shabab would launch a major terrorist attack in Kenya have been raised for years, and might have occurred with or without the Kenyan military’s incursion into southern Somalia in October 2011. The Kenyan government is an ally of the West in counterterrorism directed against al-Shabab; it is replete with soft targets such as hotels and shopping malls frequented by a large expatriate community; al-Shabab has its al-Hijra network inside Kenya; and Kenya’s security sector, though improved, remains compromised by weak capacity and corruption.[51] All the ingredients were in place for al-Shabab to commit a major terrorist attack in Kenya.

In past years, al-Shabaab appears to have been constrained from launching a large-scale terrorist attack inside Kenya for fear of the consequences it could have on the many Somalis who now reside in Kenya and who have major fixed investments in the country.[52] Fear of blowback from within the Somali community may have kept al-Shabab from taking the war into Kenya on a grand scale. The Westgate mall attack indicates that the group is now both less constrained under Godane’s consolidated rule and willing to take a major gamble with little regard for Somali reactions. This could be interpreted as a sign of weakness on the part of a group that desperately needs to reverse its losses and reframe its narrative as a fight against the foreign invasion of Somalia.[53]

Second, although the attack was carefully planned, it was relatively simple and low cost, and involved a small cell.[54] Only four gunmen, using semi-automatic weapons, were directly involved in the attack, which killed 67 people, while at least four others have been arrested for abetting the operation.[55] The lethality of the attack revealed little about al-Shabab’s robustness or sophistication; it only served to remind how vulnerable all open societies are to acts of terrorism.

Third, unlike the 2010 Kampala bombings, which were executed almost entirely by non-Somali East African members of al-Shabab, the Westgate mall attack was carried out and supported mainly if not entirely by ethnic Somalis, at least one of whom had Norwegian citizenship.[56] Whether the ethnic Somalis entered Kenya from Somalia or were Kenyan Somalis remains contested, but the Somali identity of the attackers makes it less likely that this could have been a freelance operation by al-Hijra that was not sanctioned by Godane.[57] The willingness to kill dozens of civilian shoppers fits Godane’s profile, and raises the question of whether al-Shabab’s policies—once the result of deliberation by a shura (council)—have now been reduced to the impulses of the group’s most gratuitously violent, and now unopposed, leader.

Inside Somalia, some manifestations of al-Shabab are weaker and less threatening today. The group’s ability to hold contested territory against AMISOM and Somali national armed forces is now limited, a reflection of the weakness of its standing armed forces. It is also a much weaker political movement. It now stands little chance of establishing an Islamic state in Somalia, a goal that was not so improbable in 2008. The territory under its control is still large, but is shrinking, as the group is pushed into more remote rural areas by AMISOM offensives. Al-Shabab has been reduced to a powerful spoiler in Somali political affairs, but it is not a viable alternative to the SFG.

Amniyat, however, continues to pose a chronic and serious threat. It maintains a capacity to launch frequent, sometimes deadly attacks and suicide bombings against AMISOM, the SFG, and international diplomatic missions and aid agencies. Most of al-Shabab’s daily attacks in Mogadishu are low-level—grenades thrown into compounds, assassinations, and hit-and-run shootings. Yet over the past year the group has launched numerous high visibility and devastating attacks, including a suicide bombing and assault on the United Nations compound, a bombing of the high court, and multiple bombings of popular restaurants and hotels. It is the principal source of insecurity in most of Somalia, including the northern state of Puntland. Penetrating and breaking the committed Amniyat network, and encouraging defections, will take time. As a recent UN monitoring report concluded, Amniyat has been structured “with the intention of surviving any kind of dissolution of al-Shabab.”[58]

This notion that dangerous elements of al-Shabab could survive the organization itself is critical. The past 23 years of war and state collapse in Somalia has seen the rise and dissolution of dozens of armed groups and movements. Al-Shabab’s strong secret network, its mafia-like extortion practices, and its collusion with a range of Somali political actors put it in a strong position to dissolve and re-emerge within other entities if it sees fit, or to morph into a violent criminal syndicate. It is important not to conflate al-Shabab and the threat of violent extremism in Somalia; the latter could easily outlive the former.

This is especially the case with regard to the East African manifestations of al-Shabab, which could survive longer than the original franchise in Somalia. Al-Shabab has found in East Africa a rich supply of aggrieved populations ripe for recruitment.

Al-Shabab today is both weaker and more dangerous and unconstrained than in the past. In the short term, this is bad news for Kenya, Ethiopia, the Somali government and people, and international actors operating in Somalia. Al-Shabab’s Amniyat network retains the capacity to launch destabilizing and demoralizing attacks inside Somalia and extort funds from Somali businesses and polities. The group’s franchises in East Africa are in a position to recruit from marginalized groups and mount acts of terrorism in the wider region.

Kenya, and possibly other countries in East Africa and the Horn, is likely to be the target of additional al-Shabab attacks, especially as al-Shabab responds to a major AMISOM offensive inside Somalia in the first months of 2014.[59] Kenyan security crackdowns intended to disrupt the group and prevent such attacks run the risk of setting off wider tensions with the Somali Kenyan and Kenyan Muslim communities if executed in a heavy-handed manner.[60] Al-Shabab has every interest in inflaming tensions between Kenyan Muslims and the government.

In the longer term, however, al-Shabab’s downward trajectory since 2009 shows few signs of reversal, at least inside Somalia. Additional losses of top leaders could lead to a quick unraveling of the group, at which point the chief security threat will be the residual Amniyat network, which will retain the capacity for extortion and political violence. Al-Shabab’s best hope for resurgence is the incompetence and venality of its domestic rivals, chief among them the Somali Federal Government.[61] Corruption and failure to deliver basic services is eroding the government’s legitimacy, while land grabs and predatory behavior by poorly controlled and clannish government armed forces in areas recovered from al-Shabab threaten to drive local communities back into al-Shabab’s arms.[62]

Dr. Ken Menkhaus is professor of Political Science at Davidson College, where he has taught since 1991. He specializes on the Horn of Africa, focusing primarily on conflict analysis, peacebuilding, humanitarian response, and political Islam. He has published more than 50 articles and chapters on Somalia and the Horn of Africa, including the monograph Somalia: State Collapse and the Threat of Terrorism (2004), “Governance without Government in Somalia” in International Security (2007), and “Terrorism, Security, and the State,” in the Routledge Handbook of African Politics, edited by Nic Cheeseman and David Anderson (2013). He has been an adjunct instructor for the Combating Terrorism Center’s practitioner education program since 2007.

[1] Robert Rotberg, “A Wounded Leopard: Why Somalia’s al-Shabab Attacked a Nairobi Mall,” Globe and Mail, September 23, 2013.

[2] Raffaello Pantucci, “Bilal al-Berjawi and the Shifting Fortunes of Foreign Fighters in Somalia,” CTC Sentinel 6:9 (2013).

[3] For background on the two year Ethiopian military intervention in Somalia in 2007-2008, see Ken Menkhaus, “Somalia: They Created a Desert and Called it Peace(building),” Review of African Political Economy  36:120 (2009).

[4] Roland Marchal, “The Rise of a Jihadi Movement in a Country at War: Harakat al-Shabaab al Mujaheddin in Somalia,” SciencesPo/CERI, March 2011.

[5] “Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1853 (2008),” United Nations, March 2010, p. 15.

[6] Ties between al-Qa`ida and al-Shabab were far thinner in 2006-2009 than was feared at the time, as made clear by the recently recovered, translated, and declassified diary of the top al-Qa`ida “assistant” to al-Shabab, Fazul Abdullah Mohammad. See Nelly Lahoud, Beware of Imitators: Al-Qa`ida Through the Lens of its Confidential Secretary (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2012), p. 87. For an assessment of al-Qa`ida’s early public support for al-Shabab, see Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “The Strategic Challenge of Somalia’s Al-Shabaab,” Middle East Quarterly 16:4 (2009). In February 2012, al-Shabab leader Godane announced a formal merger with al-Qa`ida, but that remained a merger on paper only. Al-Shabab has actually lost much of its support from foreign jihadists in recent years. See Abdi Aynte, “Understanding the al-Shabaab/al Qaeda ‘Merger,’” African Arguments, March 19, 2012.

[7] Stig Hansen, Al-Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group, 2005-2012 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[8] Christopher Anzalone, “Al-Shabab’s Setbacks in Somalia,” CTC Sentinel 4:10 (2011).

[9] Marchal.

[10] “Somalia: Al Shabaab Attack Indefensible,” Human Rights Watch, October 5, 2011.

[11] These clans did not defect entirely—some individuals and groups stayed with al-Shabab—but the main base of these clans swung quickly away from the group at the behest of clan leaders. The Habar Gidir Ayr shifted support to the armed Sufi group Ahlu-Sunna wal-Jama, while the Ogaden, organized as the Ras Kamboni militia, split with al-Shabab over control of Kismayo seaport revenues and, after losing a battle against al-Shabab, turned to Kenya and Ethiopia as external allies. These sudden shifts highlight how thin ideological commitment is to “radical” Islamist positions in Somalia, and how clan interests frequently trump ideology.

[12] “Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1853 (2008),” p. 6.

[13] “Al Shabaab Leader Arranged Fazul’s Death,” Somalia Report, June 16, 2011. Whether true or not, the rumor was accepted by many Somalis and shaped their perceptions of al-Shabab.

[14] Pantucci.

[15] “Mortality Among Populations of Southern and Central Somalia Affected by Severe Food Insecurity and Famine during 2010-2012,” London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Johns Hopkins University School Bloomberg School of Public Health, May 2, 2013, p. 8.

[16] Ken Menkhaus, “No Access: Critical Bottlenecks in the 2011 Somali Famine,” Global Food Security 1:1 (2012).

[17] Marchal.

[18] Laila Ali, “‘Mogadishu is Like Manhattan:’ Somalis Return Home to Accelerate Progress,” Guardian, January 11, 2013.

[19] The UN Monitoring Group in July 2011 estimated that al-Shabab earned $35-50 million per year from port revenues in Kismayo, and another $30-60 million in taxes on Somali businesses. See Barbara Starr, “UN Report: Al-Shabaab is Raising Millions Illegally in Somalia,” CNN, August 5, 2011.

[20] Harun Maruf and Dan Joseph, “Despite Setbacks, al-Shabab Still a Potent Threat,” Voice of America, November 19, 2013.

[21] Stig Hansen argued forcefully that the group had greater cohesion than its critics appreciated, which was true up until June 2013. See Stig Hansen, “Somalia: Rumors of Al-Shabaab’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated,” African Arguments, April 25, 2013.

[22] “Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 2060 (2012),” United Nations, July 2013, p. 5; personal interview, international security official, Mogadishu, Somalia, January 2014.

[23] Maruf and Joseph. The SFG is the post-transition, successor government to the TFG, selected in August 2012 for a four year term. It remains a weak authority with limited capacity to govern the capital and minimal influence in the countryside, necessitating the continued presence of AMISOM for its protection.

[24] For an excellent analysis of Godane’s consolidation of control over al-Shabab and what it means for the organization’s new orientation, see Matt Bryden, The Re-invention of Al-Shabaab: A Strategy of Choice or Necessity? (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2014).

[25] “Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 2060 (2012),” United Nations, June 19, 2012, p. 6.

[26] Ibid., p. 5.

[27] This was a chronic problem for the group even in 2007-2008. It was able to articulate clearly what it was against, but not what it was for. That made it a spoiler.

[28] “Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 2060 (2012),” p. 7. Kenyan authorities denied this charge. See “Kenya Denies Defying UN Ban on Somalia Charcoal trade,” BBC, July 15, 2013.

[29] Personal interview, international security official, Mogadishu, Somalia, January 2014.

[30] Louis Charbonneau, “Exclusive: UN Monitors Warn of ‘Systematic’ Somali Arms Diversion,” Reuters, February 13, 2014.

[31] The issue of al-Shabab penetration of the Somali government is documented in William Reno, “Rethinking Counterinsurgency in Somalia,” CTC Sentinel 6:4 (2013).

[32] Marchal.

[33] For more detailed discussion of al-Shabab recruitment, see Marchal.

[34] Starr. Al-Shabab now publishes a Swahili and English magazine, Gaidi Mtaani (“Terrorism Street”). See “Shabaab Supporters Focus on Westgate in 4th Issue of Gaidi Mtaani,” SITE Institute, January 15, 2014.

[35] Jeffrey Gettleman and Nicholas Kulish, “Somali Militants Mixing Business and Terror,” New York Times, September 30, 2013. UN Monitoring Group allegations that top Somali contractors for the World Food Programme were major financial  contributors to al-Shabab provoked a major controversy, since any financial support to a designated terrorist group constituted a violation of the USA PATRIOT Act and other counterterrorism legislation. See “Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1853 (2008).”

[36] On February 2, 2014, al-Shabab arrested 15 members of the Telecom company Hormud in the town of Jilib for refusing to pay $50,000 to the group. See “Al Shabaab Arrests Hormud Staff, Manager in Jilib,” Radio Bar-kulan, reported in AMISOM Media Monitoring, February 3, 2014. Many aid agencies and their local counterparts reject the claim that they have had to divert funds to al-Shabab when operating in or near its areas of control, but evidence is strong that local staff had no choice but to disguise fees that went to the group. See Menkhaus, “No Access: Critical Bottlenecks in the 2011 Somali Famine.”

[37] Mayat Ibrahim, “Somalia: Al-Shabaab Amniyat Branch Tasked with Protecting Godane,” Sabahi, July 16, 2013.

[38] Reno; personal interviews, international security officials, Mogadishu, Somalia, January 2014, and Nairobi, Kenya, July 2013.

[39] Most of the small-scale, hit-and-run attacks, especially grenade attacks, which occur daily in Mogadishu, are believed to be carried out by young men who are paid by Amniyat per attack, but who are not part of the group. See personal interview, UN official, Mogadishu, Somalia, January 2014.

[40] “Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1853 (2008),” p. 15.

[41] Bryden, p. 7.

[42] Marchal; Ibrahim.

[43] The Somali National Armed Forces consist of brigades organized around clans which pursue clan rather than national interests. In the recovered areas of the Lower and Middle Shabelle, these clan paramilitaries are being used to consolidate claims by their clan over contested land, prompting armed resistance from other clans in areas recently vacated by al-Shabab. These clashes are now occurring on an almost daily basis, and are considered by UN observers to be one of the top threats for armed conflict in Somalia in 2014. This information is based on personal interviews, UN officials, Mogadishu, Somalia, January 2014. These same government security forces are the main perpetrators of rape and assault in local villages and internally displaced persons camps, according to UN human rights investigations. Most of the rape victims are children. For details, see “Report of the Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia, Shamsul Bari,” United Nations, August 16, 2013, p. 11; “World Report 2013: Somalia,” Human Rights Watch, 2013.

[44] Gettleman and Kulish.

[45] Marchal.

[46] Matt Bryden, quoted in Nicholas Kulish and Josh Kron, “Extremist Group Gains Foothold Among Kenyans,” New York Times, October 9, 2013.

[47] “Kenyan Somali Islamist Radicalization,” International Crisis Group, January 25, 2012, p. 8.

[48] “Al-Shabaab Militias Run the Show in Mandera, Says Report,” Daily Nation, January 25, 2014.

[49] “Africa’s Islamist Militants Co-ordinate Efforts in Threat to Continent’s Security,” Guardian, June 26, 2012.

[50] Hamza Mohamed, “Q&A: Al-Shabab Defends Nairobi Attack,” al-Jazira, September 25, 2013.

[51] “Al Shabaab Westgate Mall Attack Focuses Attention on Corruption in Kenya’s Security Forces,” OE Watch 3:11 (2013). A recently completed Kenyan Parliamentary investigation into the Westgate attack levels serious charges against Kenyan security agencies. See “Kenyan Security Agencies Ignored Warnings Before Westgate Attack: Report,” Reuters, January 26, 2014.

[52] Al-Shabab had, prior to the Westgate attack, engaged in numerous small-scale attacks and assassinations inside Kenya, mainly in northeast Kenya. According to one study, al-Shabab launched 100 attacks inside Kenya between 2008 and 2012, and a quarter of all the group’s acts of terrorism occurred inside Kenya. But nearly all of these were relatively low-level incidents, often involving single grenades thrown into a compound. As such, they did not constitute “game-changing” acts of terrorism on the scale of the Westgate mall attack. See “Background Report: Al-Shabaab Attack on Westgate Mall in Kenya,” National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), September 2013.

[53] Ken Menkhaus, “What the Deadly Attack on a Kenya Mall Was Really About,” Think Progress, September 22, 2013.

[54] One estimate of the total cost of the operation settled on a figure of $100,000. See Gettleman and Kulish.

[55] Tom Odula, “Kenya: Names of Two Other Mall Terrorists Revealed,” Associated Press, February 6, 2014.

[56] “Bodies of Westgate Gunmen ‘Are with FBI,’” New Vision, February 11, 2014.

[57] Because so many Somalis have been able to secure Kenyan identity papers illegally, distinguishing between who is a bona fide Somali Kenyan citizen and who is a Somali from Somalia has become very problematic for the Kenyan government.

[58] “Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 2060 (2012),” p. 5.

[59] Al-Shabab has already attempted another attack, which failed—a bomb left at an outdoor restaurant at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. See “Four Somalis Charged over Kenya ‘Light Bulb’ Airport Attack,” Agence France-Presse, February 3, 2014.

[60] This occurred in early February 2014 when a Kenyan police raid on what was described as a meeting of jihadist elements provoked several days of clashes in Mombasa. See “Foreigners Among the Mombasa Mosque Chaos Suspects,” The Standard, February 5, 2014. For an earlier warning about blowback from heavy-handed Kenyan responses, see “Kenyan Somali Islamist Radicalization.”

[61] U.S. government concern about the weak leadership and in-fighting in the SFG was publicly voiced by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. See Katarina Manson, “Somalia President Fights Back on ‘Weak Leadership’ Claim from US,” Financial Times, February 7, 2014. Also see “Recently Accused Government Forces in Lower Shabelle Accused of Crimes by Local District Chiefs,” Harar24News, February 1, 2014. Land-grabbing in the Lower and Middle Shabelle Regions by clan militias “hatted” as government forces is considered by UN officials as a top source of possible armed conflict. This is based on personal interviews, UN officials, Mogadishu, Somalia, and Nairobi, Kenya, January 2014.

[62] Ibid.

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