Description: A green circle with a yellow banner on top reads, in Arabic, “the Movement of the Shabaab Mujahideen.” The center image includes a map of the Horn of Africa, an open Qur’an and two crossed AK-47 rifles. Above the Qur’an is the Islamic declaration of faith, “There is no God but the God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” The bottom banner reads, “The Army of Hardship in Somalia.”
Explanation: The map of the Horn of Africa at the center of the symbol depicts Al Shabaab’s primary geographical location. The Qur’an highlights the group’s goal to establish an Islamic state in Somalia by ridding the country of Ethiopian and outside forces, as well as the centrality of Islam to the group’s ideology. The rifles symbolize the group’s commitment to violent jihad, while the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith above them, underline Al Shabaab’s commitment and devotion to Islam. The Arabic words at the bottom of the symbol, “the army of hardship in Somalia,” allude to the “army of hardship” that was victorious in the battle of Badr against the Meccan disbelievers during the time of the Prophet Muhammad.
| Name Variations | Overview | Focus of Operations | Major Attacks | Leaders | Ideology | Goals | Methods | Sponsors | U.S.- Related Activities |
Al Shabab, Harakat Shabaab Al Mujahidin, Mujahidin Al Shabaab Movement, the Youth, Mujahideen Youth Movement, Hizbul Shabaab, Al Shabaab al-Islamiya, Youth Wing, Al Shabaab al Islam, Al Shabaab al Jihaad, the Unity of Islamic Youth.
Al Shabaab (Arabic for “the youth”), an Islamic militant group that seeks to create an Islamic state in Somalia, formed in 2004 as the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a network of Islamist militant tribes that controlled southern and central Somalia. Al Shabaab has waged an insurgency against Somalia’s transitional governments and its Ethiopian supporters since the ICU lost power in December 2006. Fighting between Al Shabaab and Somali government forces have flared since May 2009.
Although the group primarily targets Somali governmental officials and Ethiopian military forces, it has also conducted attacks against African Union Mission forces and international peacekeepers inside Somalia. Since the U.S. designated Al Shabaab a Foreign Terrorist Organization in October 2008, the group has also stated its intent to target Western interests both inside and outside Somalia. In April 2009, Al Shabaab fired mortar shells at a U.S. congressman as his plane lifted off from a Somalia airport.
Twin bombings in Uganda in July 2010 marked the first time the terror group launched an attack outside of Somalia. The bombings, which tore through two venues where crowds gathered to watch the broadcast of the World Cup finals, killed more than 70 people, including an American aid worker. One of the suspects arrested claimed that the attackers “targeted places where many Americans go,” and an Al Shabaab spokesman threatened additional attacks against Uganda and other African countries if they do not withdraw their soldiers from the African Union's peacekeeping mission stationed in Somalia.
Al Shabaab has also declared an “open battle” against Israel, which it deems the “oppressing Zionist entity,” and Jewish interests in Africa. In November 2009, the terrorist organization announced the establishment of Al Quds Brigade, a military unit specifically tasked with attacking Israel and freeing “Islamic holy places” from the Israelis.
Al Shabaab, which controls much of southern Somalia, is comprised of both local Somalis and recruits from overseas, including Somali youth from the U.S. Estimates of the group’s size range from 3,000 to 7,000.
Al Shabaab is nominally led by Sheikh Mohamed Mukhtar Abdirahman Abu Zubeyr, although experts in the U.S. believe a core group of senior leaders guide the group’s actions. This leadership is divided into three geographical units: Somalia’s Bay and Bokool regions; south-central Somalia and Mogadishu; and Puntland and Somaliland.
Al Shabaab shares ideological ties with Al Qaeda and is linked to the international terrorist network through leadership contacts, training and joint operations in the Horn of Africa, according to U.S. officials. In a February 2010 press conference, Al Shabaab announced it will be aligning with Al Qaeda "to confront the international crusaders and their aggression against the Muslim people."
Focus of Operations
- August 23, 2010: Suicide bombing and raid of a Mogadishu hotel near the presidential palace: 32 killed, at least 40 injured.
- July 11, 2010: Twin bombings tore through two venues where crowds gathered to watch the broadcast of the World Cup finals: 74 killed, 85 injured.
- December 3, 2009: Suicide bombing during a graduation ceremony for a Mogadishu university: at least 23 killed.
- February 22, 2009: Suicide car bombing against an African Union military base in Mogadishu: 11 killed.
- October 29, 2008: Coordinated suicide bombings at the United Nations compound, the Ethiopian Consulate, and the Presidential palace in Hargesis: 24 killed.
- October 6, 2008: Mortar aimed at the presidential palace in Mogadishu struck a marketplace: 17 killed.
- September 3, 2008: Attack on the Somalia presidential compound: 15 killed, 25 injured.
- February 5, 2008: Twin bombings in the port city of Bossaso: 25 killed, at least 70 injured.
- January 24, 2008: Suicide car bombing near an African Union base: 13 killed.
- Founder and Leader: Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed, a.k.a. Sheikh Mohamed Mukhtar Abdirahman Abu Zubeyr
- Leader: Issa Osman Issa
- Spokesperson: Ali Mahmud Ragi, a.k.a. Ali Dheere
- Leader of Al Quds Brigade: Abdifatah Aweys Abu Hamza
- Former Leader: Aden Hashi Ayro (killed May 1, 2008 in U.S. airstrike)
- Former Spokesperson: Mukhtar Robow, a.k.a. Abu Mansour Mukhtar Rabow
Al Shabaab shares ideological ties with Al Qaeda and espouses a strict form of Salafi Islam that stresses a literal and rigid reading of the Quran. It upholds the belief that present-day Muslims must return Islam to the way the religion was practiced during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Al Shabaab spokesman Abu Mansour Mukhtar Rabow has indicated that the group rejects all forms of governance other than shari’a, or Islamic law. In May 2008, Rabow said that the group seeks to establish an Islamic state in Somalia through “jihad against the apostates [and] regimes aiding the Crusaders’ proxy war against Muslims.”
Creating an Islamic state in Somalia by ridding the country of foreigners and outside influences. Since the group has declared its intention to target Western interests, it may also have ambitions outside Somalia’s borders.
Al Shabaab uses guerilla tactics to conduct suicide bombings, small-arms attacks, remote-controlled roadside bombings and assassinations. In 2008, Al Shabaab began using political strategies to reach out to the Somali public with a series of well-choreographed town visits.
Al Shabaab is dependent on fundraising among the global Somali diaspora, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Somalis abroad utilize the hawala system, which legally transfers money across borders using a network of individuals on an honor code instead of banks with traceable records, to provide the terrorist group with money and resources.
- Omar Hammami, a 25-year-old American citizen from Alabama, has issued written statements on behalf of Al Shabaab and has appeared in the terror group's videos and audio recordings. Hammami was charged with providing material support to Al Shabaab in an indictment unsealed in Alabama in August 2010.
- In August 2010, federal authorities unsealed four separate indictments charging a total of 14 American citizens and U.S. residents with providing material support to terrorists for their various connections to Al Shabaab. All but two of the defendants – Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan – remain at large.
- Four American men were arrested in the summer of 2010 for attempting to join Al Shabaab in Somalia. Two of the men – Mohamed Mahmood Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte – were arrested in June 2010 for allegedly planning to kill American troops who they thought would soon be deployed to Somalia to help fight Al Shabaab. Zachary Chesser was arrested in July 2010 for attempting to travel to Somalia to train with Al Shabaab. In August 2010, Shaker Masri was arrested after he mapped various routes to Somalia to avoid detection by American federal authorities and stated his intentions to become a suicide bomber in Somalia.
- Three Somali-Americans pleaded guilty in 2009 to providing material support to Al Shabaab. Abdifatah Yusuf Isse and Salah Osman Ahmed left for Somalia in December 2007 and trained with Al Shabaab, and Kamal Said Hassan also attended an Al Shabaab training camp before returning to the U.S.
- In 2009, 12 Americans were indicted on charges of providing material support to Al Shabaab. At least five other former Minnesota residents were reportedly killed in Somalia while fighting or training with the group between June and September 2009.
- Al Shabaab has released propaganda videos specifically geared towards recruiting U.S.-based Muslims. In April 2009, a video featuring men who identified themselves as Americans fighting in southern Somalia surfaced on Islamist websites. The alleged Americans insist that "many" Somali-Americans are "all over Somalia to join the jihad."
- Approximately 20 Somali men from the U.S. have joined Al Shabaab in Somalia since 2006, according to U.S. authorities. FBI director Robert Mueller said he was concerned that the young men may return to the U.S. with their American passports and attempt to carry out an attack on U.S. soil.
- Shirwa Ahmed, a naturalized U.S. citizen who left Minnesota for Somalia in August 2008, was one of five terrorists who carried out an October 2008 suicide attack on the United Nations compound, the Ethiopian Consulate and the presidential palace in Hargesis, killing 24 people. Ahmed is reportedly the first known American suicide bomber.
- Designated by the U.S. as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in October 2008.
- In July 2007, Daniel J. Maldonado, the first U.S. citizen charged with participating in terrorist activities in Somalia, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for training with the Islamic Courts Union.
- In 2005, Mark Robert Walker was sentenced to two years in prison for attempting to provide goods and services to Al Ittihad Al Islami, a now dismantled Somali terrorist group formerly allied with Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda.