The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

September 22, 2013

10 things to know about Somali militants al-Shabab

NAIROBI, Kenya — Here are 10 things to know about al-Shabab, the Somali Islamic extremist group that has claimed responsibility for the attack on Kenya's premier shopping mall that killed dozens of civilians.

WHAT IS AL-SHABAB?

Al-Shabab is an extremist Islamic terrorist force that grew out of the anarchy that crippled Somalia after warlords ousted a longtime dictator in 1991. Its name means "The Youth" in Arabic, and it was a splinter youth wing of a weak Islamic Courts Union government created in 2006 to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the East African nation. Al-Shabab is estimated to have several thousand fighters, including a few hundred foreign fighters. Some of the insurgents' foreign fighters are from the Middle East with experience in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Others are young, raw recruits from Somali communities in the United States and Europe. U.S. officials have expressed fears that militants fleeing Afghanistan and Pakistan could seek refuge in Somalia.

WHERE IS AL-SHABAB?

Al-Shabab won control of almost all of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, in 2006, and held large swathes of central and southern Somalia until a United Nations-backed force from the African Union, including soldiers from neighboring Kenya and Uganda, pushed the militants out of the city in 2011 and out of the vital port of Kismayo in 2012. The rebels still control many rural areas in Somalia where it imposes strict Shariah law, including stoning to death women accused of adultery and amputating the hands of accused thieves. In addition it has staged deadly suicide bomb attacks on Mogadishu and Kismayo.

HOW MANY FIGHTERS DOES IT HAVE?

No one knows for sure, but al-Shabab is believed to command thousands of fighters including hundreds of foreigners.

WHY ARE THEY ATTACKING KENYA?

Al-Shabab has warned for two years that it will attack Kenya in retaliation for the country's leading role in sending troops to Somalia in 2011 and effectively reducing the extremist group's power in Somalia. Al-Shabab also claimed responsibility for the July 2010 suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, that killed more than 70 people watching a World Cup final soccer match at a restaurant popular among foreigners. Ugandan troops also are fighting in the African force in Somalia.

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