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Al-Shabaab (Al-Shabab)
The Supreme Islamic Courts Union (ICU)

Al-Shabaab (Also known as: Al-Shabaab Al-Islaam, Al-Shabaab al-Islamiya, Al-Shabaab Al-Jihaad, Al-Shabab, Ash-shabaab, Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, Harakat Shabab Al-Mujahidin, Harakatul Shabaab al-Mujaahidiin, Hizbul Shabaab, Hisb'ul Shabaab, HSM, Mujahideen Youth Movement, Mujahidin Al-Shabaab Movement, Mujaahidiin Youth Movement, Mujahidin Youth Movement, Shabaab, MYM, The Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations, The Unity of Islamic Youth, The Youth, Young Mujahideen Movement, Young Mujahideen Movement in Somalia, Youth Wing) was the militant wing of the former Somali Supreme Islamic Courts Union (ICU), that had taken over most of southern Somalia in the second half of 2006. In December 2006 and January 2007, Somali government and Ethiopian forces routed the Islamic Court militias in a 2-week war.

Al-Shabaab's objective is the establishment of an Islamic state in Somalia, based on Islamic law and the elimination of foreign 'infidel' influence. In pursuance of this objective, al-Shabaab has conducted a violent insurgency against the TFG, and foreign forces supporting the TFG. Al-Shabaab seeks the creation of an 'Islamic Emirate of Somalia', to include Somalia, Somaliland, Puntland, north-eastern Kenya, the Ogaden region of Ethiopia and Djibouti. After the end of 2006, al-Shabaab and disparate clan militias had led a violent insurgency, using guerrilla warfare and terrorist tactics against the Ethiopian presence in Somalia and the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, and subsequently African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers.

Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab insurgency is collecting almost as much tax as the government through a sophisticated system of levies on activities from importing goods to irrigating crops, a think-tank report found. The Mogadishu-based Hiraal Institute reported in October 2020 that al-Shabaab’s tax collectors were bringing in an estimated $15 million per month.

The group has exerted temporary and, at times, sustained control over strategic locations in some areas by recruiting, sometimes forcibly, regional sub-clans and their militias, using guerrilla warfare and terrorist tactics against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia and its allies, African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers, and nongovernmental aid organizations.

The majority of Ethiopian troops left Somalia in late January 2007 and the subsequent security vacuum in parts of central and southern Somalia led divergent factions to oppose al-Shabaab and its extremist ideology. However, hardcore al-Shabaab fighters and allied militias continued to conduct brazen attacks in Mogadishu and outlying environs, primarily in lower-Somalia. During 2007, elements of al-Shabaab adopted tactics used by Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Iraq including the employment of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), roadside bombs, suicide attacks and beheadings. After al-Shabaab's leaders publicly ordered their fighters to attack African Union (AU) peace-keeping troops based in Mogadishu, a suicide vehicle bomber detonated near an AU base in the capital on 24 January 2008, killing an estimated 13 people. Suicide-vehicle bombings in October 2008 in Hargeysa and Boosaaso, northern Somalia, were also widely attributed to al-Shabaab.

On 29 February 2008, the US Government designated al-Shabaab as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (as amended) and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity under Section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224 (as amended). In 2012, the Rewards for Justice program added several al-Shabaab leaders to its site, offering large rewards for information leading to their capture.

Al-Shabaab encompassed a number of elements, ranging from those focused solely on the domestic insurgency in Somalia to elements that support al-Qa'ida's global jihadist ideology. Al-Shabaab is not centralized or monolithic in its agenda or goals. Its rank-and-file members come from disparate clans, and the group is susceptible to clan politics, internal divisions, and shifting alliances. Most of its fighters are predominantly interested in the nationalistic battle against the TFG and not supportive of global jihad. The organization's precise numbers were unknown as of 2008, but by 2013 estimates of al-Shabaab fighters varied from 3,000 to as high as 7,000, with most members being ethnic Somalis. Al-Shabaab has long recruited members from Kenya. However, a small number of al-Shabaab fighters are from other countries including the US and Canada.

Some of al-Shabaab's senior leaders were thought to be affiliated with al-Qa'ida (AQ) operatives, and it was believed that specific al-Shabaab members had previously trained and fought with AQ in Afghanistan. Al-Shabaab had issued statements praising Usama Bin Ladin and linking Somalia jihadists to AQ's global ideology. Al-Shabaab’s senior leadership was affiliated with al-Qa‘ida and was believed to have trained and fought in Afghanistan. The merger of the two groups was publicly announced in February 2012 by the al-Shabaab amir and Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of al-Qa‘ida. Al-Shabaab received significant donations from the global Somali diaspora. It also raised funds in Somalia.

Harakat Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahidin (Al-Shabaab) (SOe.001), an Al-Qaida affiliate, continued in 2019 to conduct attacks and to radicalize and recruit members. Inside Somalia, it focused attacks on the Federal Government’s personnel and installations, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), bases and defence positions. It also targeted convoys along the transport corridors and concentrated on planning attacks on western interests, targeting foreign-owned businesses, workers, foreign-affiliated institutions and troops.

The group attempted to achieve its strategic interests by focusing on aviation and other hard targets. On 30 September 2019, Al-Shabaab attacked Baledogle airstrip in the Lower Shabelle region, which serves as a United States military training base, and attacked a convoy of Italian troops within Mogadishu. On 13 October, the group fired six mortars into the heavily guarded Halane area of the Mogadishu airport, which houses the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia. That was the second such attack in 2019.

Al-Shabaab continued to enlist fighters to replace over 400 fighters killed in airstrikes in the past two years. Clan elders are coerced into promulgating Al-Shabaab doctrine and recruiting new members. Those who resist are targeted for kidnapping and assassination. The group continues to attract significant numbers of foreign terrorist fighters from cross-border communities of Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Similarly, the number of attacks along the common borders with Somalia increased as Al-Shabaab units, including their intelligence and explosive experts, began operating in strategic towns and villages near the common borders, from where they continue to plan attacks and kidnappings of government officials and foreigners. The influx of fighters into the border areas is attributed to desertions from AMISOM bases by some Al-Shabaab elements who exploited the relocation of AMISOM defence positions in order to move freely.

There is simmering dissent among foreign terrorist fighters as a result of lower wages and fewer privileges relative to other local fighters. This is likely to motivate fighters to defect to ISIL in Somalia or the Democratic Republic of the Congo; it has also led Al-Shabaab to subject those considering defection to house arrest or assassination.

Al-Shabaab continued to enjoy expanded sources of funding and is consolidating an elaborate taxation system in most parts of the country where there is significant economic activity. For instance, in mid-November 2019, Al-Shabaab operatives released a property tax notice indicating the amount of money to be remitted to the group monthly by households and businesses without exception. Additionally, Al-Shabaab destroyed telecommunications towers in certain areas and introduced monthly compliance reports for all companies, with the largest company, Hormuud Telecommunication, expected to remit about $200,000 per month.

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