24 August 2010

Who are the al Shabaab rebels in Somalia?

Reuters has a look at the basic facts.


-- Al Shabaab, which means "Youth" in Arabic, has taken control of large areas of south and central Somalia. The Horn of Africa nation has been mired in anarchy since warlords toppled military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

-- The interim government's attempts to restore central rule have largely been paralysed by infighting and the Islamist-led insurgency. Fighting has killed more than 21,000 people since the start of 2007 and uprooted at least 1.5 million civilians. The chaos has also helped fuel kidnappings and piracy offshore.

-- Al Shabaab's hardline militia was part of the Somalia Islamic Courts Council movement that pushed U.S.-backed warlords out of Mogadishu in June 2006 and ruled for six months before Somali and Ethiopian forces ousted them.

-- Al Shabaab has sought to recruit school children to join a "holy war" against the Somalia's government and its allies.


-- The Somali government says hundreds of foreign fighters have joined the insurgency from countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Gulf region and Western nations such as the United States and Britain. Some of the foreign jihadists have taken up leadership positions in militant groups including al Shabaab.

-- Last month al Shabaab ramped up the regional security threat it poses with a bomb attack on Kampala that killed 79 people while they were watching the soccer World Cup final. The strike, their first on foreign soil, was in revenge for Uganda's contribution to the 6,300-strong AU peacekeeping force AMISOM.

-- The Islamists are also increasingly launching cross-border raids into Kenya's remote north east because they say that Kenya has trained thousands of Somali recruits to beef up troops loyal to Somalia's president.

-- In September 2009, al Shabaab insurgents struck the main African Union military base in Mogadishu with twin suicide car bombs and killed 17 peacekeepers. Rebels said the bombing was revenge for the U.S. killing of Kenyan-born Salah Ali Saleh Nabhan, a most-wanted al Qaeda militant.

-- Two French security advisers were kidnapped by Shabaab in July 2009 but one escaped a month later. The group issued a statement of demands in September, which included an immediate end to French support for the Somali government and the withdrawal of African Union peacekeepers.

-- The U.N.'s World Food Programme suspended its work in much of southern Somalia in January 2010 due to threats against its staff and unacceptable demands by al Shabaab rebels controlling the area. Shabaab on Aug. 20 said they had burned more than 500 sacks of grain stored by the WFP because they had expired. A WFP spokesman in Nairobi rejected the claims.

-- In late July, the Islamist rebels ordered residents in areas they control to hand over televisions and satellite dishes, warning that anyone who did not would be considered a spy, residents said. The group has also banned school bells, ringtones on cell phones and music on radios.

By: Brant

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