The terror attack in Kenya by Islamist group al-Shabab claimed more than
60 lives. The group was formed as neighboring Somalia disintegrated
politically and people sought a new source of authority.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Civil war has been the normal state of affairs in Somalia for some two
decades. Following the ousting of dictator Siad Barre in 1991 local
warlords fought for power throughout the country. Thousands of people
were killed. In 1995 the first UN intervention took place but failed to
In their search for a normal life, many Somalis, the majority of them
Muslims, turned to religious authorities. Islamic courts were set up
which restored a certain amount of law and order. Some of these courts
united to form the Union of Islamic Courts (ICU). They chased the
warlords out of the capital Mogadishu and in 2006 took over control of
much of southern Somalia. A radical section of the ICU also threatened
to seize Ethiopia's Ogaden territory. Ethiopia, backed by the US,
responded militarily and drove out the ICU. This second military
intervention from outside was again viewed critically by much of the
That was the moment when the small radical group al-Shabab became
popular as a result of its resistance to the foreign forces, says Markus
Höhne, a Somalia researcher at the Max Plank Institute in the German
city of Halle. "The growth in popularity of such small splinter groups
has a great deal to do with the total failure of anti-terrorism measures
in Somalia," Höhne told DW.
In 2009 Ethiopian troops withdrew from Somalia. The battle between
al-Shabab and the new Somali transition government continued. By then,
at the latest, the population at large realized that al-Shabab had many
faces, it was not a homogenous group. The radical wing carried out
attacks against the Somali population and imposed Islamic law, the
sharia, in a brutal manner.
"The other part of al-Shabab only followed because the radicals were the
only ones who managed to establish some kind of law and order, peace
and stability," said Mehari Mehu from the Institute for Security Studies
(ISS) in Addis Ababa. "They later left the group again but the part
that was left has an international orientation. It is inspired and
controlled by al Qaeda."
News agencies report that the US Justice Department has information that
al-Shabab has been recruiting members in the US since 2007.
In 2012 the Kenyan police launched a manhunt for a German national
believed to have links to al-Shabab. The group receives financial
backing from wealthy individuals in the Middle East who are seeking to
further their own ideologies, says Mehari Maru.
Al-Shabab 'more dangerous than ever'
In 2011 al-Shabab lost ground in Somalia. Kenya's government had become
active in the conflict and declared war on the group, after the militias
had been held responsible for the kidnapping of foreigners in Kenya.
Al-Shabab reacted with attacks in both Somalia and Kenya, culminating in
the siege of the Westgate shopping center in Nairobi.
Markus Höhne says that in recent months a radical wing has gained
strength within al-Shabab. Its followers are focused less on Somalia and
more on a global jihad or holy war. "Al-Shabab is by no means defeated
but is actually more dangerous than ever," Höhne told DW.
Mehari Maru from the ISS disagrees. He points to the fact that a few
years ago the group controlled large parts of Somali territory but is
now concentrating more on individual attacks. For Maru this is a sign
that the group has become weaker, although he admits that al-Shabab's
ideology is not bound by national borders and therefore represents a