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Somali Civil War
Somalia Islamic Courts Flag.svg
Leaders Adan Eyrow  
Abu Mansoor (ex)
Moktar Ali Zubeyr (current)
Years active: January 19, 2007–present
Headquarters: Mogadishu
Operating Areas: Somalia
Preceded by: Islamic Courts Union (ICU)
Allies: al-Qaeda
Opponents: Somalia Transitional Federal Government (TFG)
al-Shabaab is redirected here, for other uses of "Al Shabaab" see Al-Shabaab (disambiguation)

Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen ("Movement of Warrior Youth"), more commonly known as al-Shabaab (Arabic: الشباب‎, "The Youth") is an Islamist insurgency group in the ongoing war in Somalia. As of summer 2010 the group is said to control most of the southern and central parts of Somalia, including "a large swath" of the capital, Mogadishu, where it is said to have imposed its own "harsh" form of Sharia law.[3] Estimates of al-Shabaab's strength, as of December 2006, vary between 3,000 to 7,000.[4]

The group is an off-shoot of the Islamic Courts Union, which splintered into several smaller groups after its removal from power by Ethiopian forces in 2006.[5] The group describes itself as waging jihad against "enemies of Islam" and is engaged in combat against the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). It has reportedly "declared war on the U.N. and on Western non-governmental organizations" that distribute food aid in Somalia, killing 42 relief workers in the past two years of 2008 and 2009.[3] It has been designated a terrorist organization by several western governments and security services,[6][7][8] and described as having "ties to Al Qaeda,"[3] which their leaders denied until early 2010.[9][10]



Al-Shabaab are also known as Ash-Shabaab, Hizbul Shabaab (Arabic, "The Party of Youth"),[11] and the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations (PRM)[12] For short the group is referred to as HSM standing for Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen. The term Shabaab means "youth" in Arabic and the group should not be confused with similarly named groups.

Organization and leadership

The organization's current leader is Axmed Cabdi Goodane, also known as Moktar Ali Zubeyr. It was originally run by Aden Hashi Farah "Ayro", who was appointed by Hassan Dahir Aweys, one of the leaders of ICU at the time of the organization's founding. After the death of Ayro, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow (also known as Abu Mansur) became leader until he was succeeded by Ali Zubeyr. .[13]




Other leaders: Spiritual Leader [14]


Al-Shabaab is said to have non-Somali foreigners in its ranks, particularly at its leadership.[19] Fighters from the Persian Gulf and international jihadists were called to join the holy war against the Somali government and its Ethiopian allies. Though Somali Islamists did not originally use suicide bombing tactics, the foreign elements of Al-Shabaab are blamed for several suicide bombings.[20][21] UN's 2006 report stated Iran, Libya, Egypt and others in the Persian Gulf region as the main backers of the Islamist extremists. Egypt has a longstanding policy of securing the Nile River flow by destabilizing Ethiopia.[22][23] Similarly, recent media reports also cited Egyptian and Arab jihadists as the core elements of the Al-Shabaab, who are training Somalis in sophisticated weaponry and suicide bombing techniques.[24]

Twenty or so Somali–American youth from the area of the Twin Cities in Minnesota[3] whose families emigrated to the United States have also reportedly been recruited to fight in Somalia.[25] In September 2009, a Somali–American from Seattle drove a truck bomb into an AMISOM base in Mogadishu, killing twenty-one peacekeepers and himself.[3][26] According to UN Security Council documents, submitted by the US there are some 280–300 non-Somali fighters being used by Somali rebel groups, mostly Al-Shabaab.[27] The Eritrean government has been accused of arming and financing Al Shabab by the Somali government, the AU, the UN and the US government. Plane loads of weapons said to be coming from Eritrea were sent to anti-government rebels in southern Somalia. AU peacekeepers also reportedly captured some Eritrean soldiers and prisoners of war.[28][29] By December 2008 it was reported they had the backing of at least 1,200 foreign fighters in Somalia.[30]

Terrorist designation

Shabaab is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States Department of State,[6] is proscribed as a terrorist group by the Australian, British[31] and Canadian[32] governments, and is also described as a terrorist organization by the Norwegian Police Security Service[7] and the Swedish Security Service.[8] One of the group's primary objectives is the establishment of the rule of sharia.

History and activities

Map showing territorial gains made by al-Shabaab since January 31, 2009, when the civil war with Sharif Ahmed started.

While Al-Shabaab previously represented the hard-line militant youth movement within the Islamic Courts Union,[33] it is now described as an extremist splinter group of the ICU. However, since the ICU's downfall, the distinction between the youth movement and the so-called successor organization to the ICU, the PRM, appears to have been blurred.

Their core comprised veterans who fought and defeated the secular Mogadishu warlords of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) at the Second Battle of Mogadishu.[34] Their origins are not clearly known, but former members say Hizbul Shabaab was founded as early as 2004. Al-Shabaab also has various foreign fighters from around the world, according to an Islamic hardliner Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Abu Manssor.[35]

As of January 2009, Ethiopian forces have withdrawn from Somalia and Al-Shabaab carries on its fight against former ally and Islamic Courts Union leader, President Sharif Ahmed, who heads the Transitional Federal Government.[3] Al-Shabaab has had success in its campaigns against the weak Transitional Federal Government, capturing Baidoa, the base of the Transitional Federal Parliament, in January 26, 2009, and killing three ministers of the government in a December 3, 2009 suicide bomb attack on a medical school graduation ceremony.[36]


Complaints made against the group include its attacks on aid workers and harsh enforcement of Sharia law. According to journalist Jon Lee Anderson:

The number of people in Somalia who are dependent on international food aid has tripled since 2007, to an estimated 3.6 million. But there is no permanent foreign expatriate presence in southern Somalia, because the Shabaab has declared war on the UN and on Western non-governmental organizations. International relief supplies are flown or shipped into the country and distributed, wherever possible, through local relief workers. Insurgents routinely attack and murder them, too; forty-two have been killed in the past two years alone.[3]

Anderson also reports that enforcement of law against adultery or zina includes execution. In 2008,

in the port of Kismayo, a young girl accused of adultery was buried up to her neck in the field of a soccer stadium packed with spectators, and then stoned to death; her family said that she was only thirteen years old and had in fact been gang-raped. This summer, in the ancient coastal town of Merca, the Shabaab decreed that gold and silver dental fillings were un-Islamic, and dispatched patrols to yank them out of people's mouths.[3]

Shabaab have persecuted Somalia's small Christian minority, sometimes affixing the label on people they suspect of working for Ethiopian intelligence.[37] The group has also desecrated the graves of prominent Sufi Muslims in addition to a Sufi mosque and university, claiming that Sufi practices conflict with their strict interpretation of Islamic law.[38]



  • June 10, 2006—The Guardian reports "An unnamed network run by one of Aweys's proteges, Aden Hashi Farah "Ayro" is linked to the murder of four western aid workers and over a dozen Somalis who allegedly cooperated with counter-terror organisations."[39]
  • June 15, 2006—Al-Shabaab leader Aden Hashi Farah "Eyrow", was said to have taken arms sent from Eritrea [40] (see page 12).
  • July 26, 2006—Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Mansur or "Abu-Mansur" was reported accepting another load of arms from Eritrea[40] (see page 15).
  • July—720 Somali volunteers were selected by Aden Hashi Farah "Eyrow" to travel to Lebanon to fight against the Israelis. Of those, only 80 returned to Mogadishu. In September, another 20 returned, along with five members of Hizbollah.[40] (see page 24).
  • The bankruptcy of a remittance company, Dalsan International, whose staff included the brother of Aden Hashi Farah "Eyrow", involved the suspicious disappearance of $10 million dollars. It was alleged, "an ICU military leader managed to divert a large amount of money to help financially support the organization in their fight for the control of Mogadishu during the June 2006 confrontation with the former counter

terrorism alliance"[40] (see page 39). (Also see ARPCT, Second Battle of Mogadishu)


  • As of January 6, 2007, after the Fall of Mogadishu and Kismayo to the TFG, the leaders of the Shabaab were in hiding still at large.[41] A member of the disbanded group said they once numbered about 1,000 (lower than other claims by former members), but they do not have any weapons any more. Still, there was support for the call of leaders to maintain jihad against the Ethiopians and secular government.[42]
  • January 19, 2007—Pro-Islamic Courts Union website featured a video describing the reformation of the ICU into the "Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations" (PRM), alternatively translated and referred to in press reports as the "Somali People's Insurgent Movement" (SPIM) or "Somali People's Resistance Movement" (SPRM). On January 24, Sheikh Abdikadir was announced to be its commander of the Banadir region.[43]
  • January 31, 2007—Al-Shabaab made a video warning African Union peacekeepers to avoid coming to Somalia, claiming "Somalia is not a place where you will earn a salary — it is a place where you will die."[44]
  • February 9, 2007—800 Somali demonstrators in north Mogadishu, where Islamist support was strongest, burned U.S., Ethiopian, and Ugandan flags in protest of the proposed African Union (AU) led and United Nations endorsed peacekeeping mission, known as AMISOM. "Abdirisaq", a masked representative of the resistance group, the PRM, said Ethiopian troops would be attacked in their hotels.[12][45][46]


Al-Shabaab achieved a military victory in the August 2008 Battle of Kismayo. After several days of fighting in which scores of deaths were reported, Al-Shabaab fighters defeated the militia of Barre Adan Shire Hiiraale and took control of the port city. Kismayo had been held by the TFG since January 2007.[47] The fighting in Kismayo is reported to have displaced an estimated 35,000 people. After the withdrawal of Hiiraale's fighters, Al-Shabaab commenced a peaceful disarmament process targeting local armed groups that had been contributing to insecurity in Kismayo.[48] The group has been blamed or claimed responsibility for, among other attacks, the February 2008 Bosaso bombings and the 2008 Hargeisa–Bosaso bombings.[49][50] By late 2008, it was estimated that the group controlled the whole of southern Somalia, except for some pockets of Mogadishu. This was more territory than that controlled by the Islamic Courts Union at the height of their power.[51]

In December 2008, Anwar al-Awlaki sent a communique to Al-Shabaab, congratulating them. He thanked them for "giving us a living example of how we as Muslims should proceed to change our situation. The ballot has failed us, but the bullet has not". In conclusion, he wrote: "if my circumstances would have allowed, I would not have hesitated in joining you and being a soldier in your ranks".[52]


  • January 2009 UN-sponsored peace talks conclude in Djibouti with Ethopians agreeing to withdraw from Somalia and Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed "agreed to stop fighting."
  • January 31, 2009—Shiekh Sharif Ahmed is elected present of the Transitional Federal Government. Opposing any negotiatied settlement with Ethiopia, al-Shabaab "declares war on him." [3]
  • February 22, 2009—2009 African Union base bombings in Mogadishu: al-Shabaab carried out a suicide car bomb attack against an African Union military base in Mogadishu, killing at least six Burundian peacekeepers.[53]
  • May, 2009—al-Shabaab, along with allied group Hizbul Islam, launched a major offensive in the city of Mogadishu to take over the city, leaving hundreds killed and injured and tens of thousands displaced. The group made large gains, taking over most of the capital.
  • June 18—Al-Shabaab claimed the 2009 Beledweyne bombing, which killed 35 people including Somali security minister Omar Hashi Aden.
  • July 8, 2009—A video message featuring an American commander in al-Shabaab, Abu Mansur al-Amriki, is released in which he responds and denounces U.S. President Barack Obama's June 2009 Cairo speech to Arabs and Muslims.[54]
  • August 4, 2009—Four men allegedly connected with al-Shabaab in Melbourne, Australia were charged over the Holsworthy Barracks terror plot, a plan to storm the Holsworthy Barracks with automatic weapons; and shoot army personnel or others until they were killed or captured.[55][56] Al-Shabaab has denied any connection with the men.[57] It has subsequently been listed as a terrorist organisation in Australia.[58]
  • August 11, 2009—Reuters reports residents in Marka complain "al Shabaab has been rounding up anyone seen with a silver or gold tooth and taking them to a masked man who then rips them out using basic tools." Residents told Reuters that al Shabaab declared that since gold and silver teeth "are used for fashion and beauty," they are against Islam.[59]
  • September 14, 2009—Members of the group were killed in a raid targeting Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was also killed.[60][61]
  • September 17: The group claims a second bombing of an AU base, which kills 17 peacekeepers.
  • September 20, 2009—Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen released a 48-minute video, "Labayka Ya Usama," ("Here I am at Your Service, Usama") on transnational jihadi web sites. The video is framed around Usama bin Laden's March 2009 audio message "Fight On, O' Champions of Somalia," and features footage of African Union "atrocities" in Somalia and Harakat al-Shabaab units undergoing military training. Bin Laden and the Amir (leader) of Harakat al-Shabaab, Shaykh Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Abu al-Zubayr, criticize Somalia's interim president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, and the religious scholars of Somalia ('ulama al-Sumaal) for apostasy. Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, the American field commander in the group, is also briefly featured.[62]
  • October 15, 2009—Al-Shabaab began publicly whipping women for wearing bras that they claim violate Islam as they are 'deceptive'. They sent gunmen into the streets of Mogadishu to round up any women who appear to have a firm bust. The women were then inspected to see if the firmness is natural, or if it is the result of wearing a bra. If they are found wearing a bra, they are ordered to remove it and shake their breasts after the whipping.[63]
  • November 1, 2009—Al-Shabaab announced the establishment of Al Quds Brigade, a military unit specifically tasked with attacking Israel and Jewish interests in Africa. In a rally held the previous week in Mogadishu, a top Al Shabaab official said, "It is time to go for open war against Israel in order to drive them from the holy cities." [64]
  • December 3: Suspected of being behind the 2009 Hotel Shamo bombing, which kills 24, including three government ministers.


  • January 2: A man linked to al-Shabaab tried to kill Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard at his home in Aarhus, Denmark. Westergaard was not hurt and the assailant was shot, wounded, and arrested.[65]
  • February 1: al-Shabaab declares for the first time that they maintain strong ties with al-Qaeda.[9]
  • February 7: The militant group declares jihad on Kenya over allegations that it is training Somali troops although Kenya denied involvement.[1]
  • February 15: an al-Shabab suicide car bomber attempted to assassinate Somalia's state minister for defence, Yusuf Mohamed Siyad when he drove his explosive-laden vehicle towards Mr Siyad's car and detonated, injuring two of his security guards.[66]
  • March 5: The Government of Canada lists Al Shabaab as a terrorist group. [67]


In 2009, Al-Shabaab witnessed a number of its fighters, including several leaders, defect to Somalia's Transitional Federal Government. One such high profile departure came in early November of the year with the defection of Sheikh Mohamed Abdullahi (also known as "Sheikh Bakistani"), who commanded the Maymana Brigade. Sheikh Bakistani told VOA Somali Services that he found the group's suicide missions and executions unbearable. He also indicated that his father, a well-known local religious leader, had visited him several times and helped convince him to defect. However, a spokesman for Al-Shabaab denied that Sheikh Bakistani was a member of the group.[68] During the same month, in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP) in Villa Somalia arranged by the Somali federal government, one former Al-Shabaab fighter reported being disillusioned with the group's direction, indicating that while he began fighting in 2006 "to kick out the Ethiopian invaders", he defected a month ago, "disgusted by the false interpretations Al-Shabaab give of Islam". Following the murder of one of his family members (another Hizbul Islam commander) by Al-Shabaab militants as punishment for having escorted a UN convoy, an ertswhile Hizbul Islam commander who also recently defected to the side of the Somali government similarly indicated in the interview that "if you don't want to fight anymore, there's no point. That's why I quit".[69] In early December 2009, Sheikh Ali Hassan Gheddi, who at the time served as Deputy Commander in-Chief of Al-Shabaab militants in the Middle Shabele region, also opted to defect on the side of the government, indicating that "Al-Shabaab's cruelty against the people is what forced me to defect to the government side. They extort money from the people and deal with them against the teaching of Islam". Sheikh Gheddi also cited Al-Shabaab's recent prohibition on the United Nation's World Food Programme (WFP) as the main reason for his defection since he felt the ban directly affects civilians.[70]


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  4. ^ Former Members of Radical Somali Group Give Details of Their Group Voice of America
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  25. ^ Recruited for Jihad? -
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  29. ^ Eritrean prisoners of war "in the custody of AU"
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  33. ^ [1]
  34. ^ "Extremist" Splinter Group Of Somali Islamic Courts Formed Somaliland Times
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  59. ^ Somali islamists forcibly remove teeth August 11, 2009 Source: Reuters
  60. ^ {{cite web|url= |title="Shabab to avenge US raid in Somalia", September 15, 2009, [[Al-Jazeera | |date=2009-09-16 |accessdate=2010-03-17}}
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  70. ^ "Senior Al-Shabab Commander Defects to Govt". 2009-12-02. Retrieved 2010-03-17. 

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