The name al-Shabab signifies youth. They are the most hardline offshoot of the union of Islamic tribunals active in Somalia in 2006. Their goal was to impose a state run entirely according to Sharia law. Many countries officially categorised them as a terrorist organisation. Since 2008, they have controlled large parts of Somalia.
They were pushed back in 2011 by government troops with African Union help. Kenya pushed back also. Its forces crossed the border several times. The Islamists today say they have got their revenge.
Analyst Tom Maliti said: “The al-Shabab have said since October 2011 that they did not like the presence of the Kenyan military in Somalia – when Kenya moved into Somalia in October 2011. Al-Shabab at that time threatened to fight Kenya on Kenyan soil.”
The group’s current chief leader is Ahmed Abdi Godan. Their foundation dates from 2006. They number between seven thousand and nine thousand fighters. Among the worst attacks by them: in 2010, they killed 76 people during the World Cup football final in Kampala, Uganda. In a raid on an African Union troop base in Somalia, they killed eleven in 2009. Also there, a suicide bombing claimed 70 lives, and an attack on a court building took 29.
This is the second time al-Shabab has struck outside Somalia, and the first time it has done so in this way; survivors of the shopping mall slaughter in Kenya’s capital said these were very young men acting with no pity and in a spirit of vengeance.
That appears to have been the attackers’ common objective, and yet internal struggles have been the norm for several years. Nationalists who want to seize power in Somalia have clashed with globalist jihadists who want to carry their war beyond Africa’s borders.
To travel in areas al-Shabab is present is dangerous even for armoured peacekeepers. Aid workers also run extreme risks. Kenyan authorities have said they are not creating a buffer state but must protect a very long border with Somalia, home of al-Shabab.