Somalia’s Al-Shabaab: “Mafia-style” militants seek a “caliphate”

Somali militants currently control about 70 percent of southern and central Somalia, according to the Washington Post, and while the fragile government rules Mogadishu and the provincial capitals, al-Shabab and his 5,000-7,000 fighters control much of the countryside.

On the second of last May, suicide bombers belonging to the movement blew up three cars loaded with explosives on the basis of the African Union’s peacekeeping forces, occupied by peacekeepers from Burundi.

After the bombings, militant fighters rained bullets and rocket-propelled grenades on the base, killing dozens of soldiers.

The newspaper quoted Sadiq Mukhtar, a Somali lawmaker representing the region where the attack took place, saying the militants had “surprisingly attacked the peacekeepers,” adding that some soldiers had been captured and later killed, while others escaped.

The aftermath of an attack by the movement’s fighters last February

The newspaper says the extremist organizations “use intimidation and mafia-like tactics to blackmail civilians and force them to pay money, while also running health, education and judicial services in an attempt to undermine the government”.

In other areas, they use intimidation and mafia-like tactics to enforce taxes while providing health, education and judicial services in an effort to undermine the government and establish a base of loyalty, according to the newspaper.

The May 2 attack killed more than 50 people, according to local and Western officials in Somalia, making it the deadliest blow to the US-backed peacekeeping mission in six years.

The newspaper says that the success of the attack “confirmed the re-emergence of al-Shabaab and the challenges facing African and American forces to keep the group in check.”

Somali government fighters repel al-Shabab attack

Somali government fighters repel al-Shabab attack

Two weeks after the attack, US President Joe Biden has agreed to redeploy some 450 US troops to Somalia, reversing an order issued by the administration of former President Donald Trump in 2020 to bring US counter-terrorism operations into the country to more than ‘ to end a decade.

The group’s attacks nearly doubled from 2015 to 2021, according to data collected by the African Center for Strategic Studies in Washington.

In recent years, much of the violence has involved confrontations with security forces.

The newspaper says if the organization continues at the current rate until next December, attacks will have increased by 71 percent in just one year.

This increase coincides with a deadly wave of violence across Africa by extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Al-Shabab fighters

Al-Shabab fighters

Both organizations are seeking to revive their fortunes on the continent following the fall of the ISIS “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria and the weakening of al-Qaeda in Yemen and Afghanistan.

Al-Shabab was responsible for more than a third of militant attacks in Africa in 2021.

The newspaper quoted General Stephen Townsend, head of the US military command in Africa, as saying during a visit to Mogadishu in February that “al-Shabab is still the richest and most violent al-Qaeda affiliate.”

“Strengthening” factors of the uprising

The newspaper says that the many political crises in Somalia, the decline in US support, the ineffectiveness of African Union power, the lack of a coherent strategy to combat terrorism between the Somali government and its partners, and the inability of the Somali army to reach the stage of readiness despite years of training provided by the United States and other countries, the uprising proved its presence in the country.

The newspaper says with the return of US forces to support the Somali forces and the African Union forces, they will face an extremist organization that seeks to build its financial coffers and its international “credibility” among the extremists .

Even while the rebels are still “operating locally”, the newspaper says, al-Shabab is looking for opportunities to advance beyond Somalia’s borders and establish a “regional caliphate”.

“Al-Shabaab’s deadly uprising continues with no end in sight,” said a study by the International Crisis Group. agility enabled them to establish themselves in Somali society. ” It also makes it difficult to defeat them.

African Union forces in Somalia

African Union forces in Somalia

Signals detected by the attack

Al-Shabab militants took over the military base after smashing it with explosives, hoisting their black flag and looting artillery and other heavy weapons, including a ZU 23mm anti-aircraft gun, a Soviet-made cannon, according to Western security personnel who familiar with the attack.

This attack significantly strengthened the group’s power within just a few hours, and increased the powerful weapons in its treasury for use against the government and its allies.

Compared to the situation of the movement a decade ago, when it was subjected to intense US airstrikes that killed many of its leaders, the situation is “much better” for the movement.

In 2010, the group orchestrated suicide bombings in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, with crowds watching the soccer World Cup final and killing 74 people.

Three years later, it surrounded a shopping mall in Nairobi, killing 67 people.

Within Somalia, it has continued to carry out hundreds of attacks, many of which target civilians.

In 2017, two truck bombs in Mogadishu killed more than 500 people.

And in 2020, three U.S. personnel were killed when al-Shabab targeted a military base used by U.S. forces in Kenya.

Over the past two years, say UN, Western and African Union officials, the group has benefited from the political crises surrounding the postponed legislative and presidential elections.

“The violent political battles have caused dysfunction at various levels of society, ranging from a lack of government power to a lack of concern about security,” said Larry Andre, US Ambassador to Somalia.

motion financing

The movement finances itself through a wide “tax base” that relies on royalties it collects from various major commercial activities such as companies, hotels, real estate developers and even the Mogadishu port.

At the same time, the movement has established schools, clinics and police departments in the areas it controls. It also deploys mobile courts, where its judges settle land and family disputes, further undermining government authority.

“We co-exist with al-Shabaab, wherever they rule and it is known that we must abide by their rules,” Issa Mohamed Hallan, an official at the Somali Chamber of Commerce, quoted the newspaper as saying.

“Some people like the way they act, they prefer movement when it comes to the legal system, while other people complain about it,” he adds.

The movement disrupts the activities of government members as many lawmakers and officials live or hold meetings in a fortified enclave next to the capital’s airport known as the Green Zone.

The movement always targets lawmakers and officials with assassinations, making it very difficult for them to reach the streets to carry out their work and meet their masses.

U.S. forces train a special Somali force known as “Danabe”, or “lightning” in the local dialect, and the 1,500-strong force members receive advanced combat and intelligence training.

But with the uprising still in its 15th year, many analysts are convinced that the militants cannot be defeated militarily, according to the newspaper, and the International Crisis Group in its report urged Somalia’s leaders to engage in political talks to to end conflict.

The 19,000-strong African Union mission is about to end its work after nearly two years, which seriously threatens the government.

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