Al-Shabab and the Dream of a Caliphate in Africa
A security officer patrols on the roof of the destroyed Hayat Hotel after a deadly 30-hour siege by Al-Shabaab jihadists in Mogadishu on August 21, 2022, that left at least 21 people dead. (Hassan Ali Elmi/AFP via Getty Images)

Al-Shabab and the Dream of a Caliphate in Africa

An-Nahar, Lebanon, August 24

A new terror organization – an offshoot of al-Qaida – is making strides in the African continent. Ever since the assassination of al-Qaida leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri at the end of July, several terror groups in Africa publicly pledged their allegiance to al-Qaida. The reason behind it is twofold: first, to send a clear message to the world that al-Qaida is still strong even after the death of its leader, and second that al-Qaida is ready to return to the forefront of the Jihadi scene after it had been overshadowed by ISIS. The Somali “Mujahideen Youth Movement,” often referred to as Al-Shabab, is al-Qaida’s largest affiliate in Africa. Some experts believe that it has funding that exceeds the resources available to the Somali government itself. This allows it to carry out military operations both inside Somalia, as well as deep inside Ethiopian and Kenyan territory. Al-Shabab was established in 2006 and was part of the Islamic Courts Union before it split from it after the courts joined the Somali Opposition Alliance. At one point, it succeeded in controlling nearly 90% of Somali lands. However, the interim government in Somalia succeeded in weakening the movement and expelling it from the capital city of Mogadishu in 2011. Since then, the movement retreated to rural areas, where it established its strongholds. Since then, the movement has been waging a multi-sided war, whether against the Somali government itself or the countries that support it. This explains the reason for the military operation carried out by the movement a few weeks ago, when it succeeded in besieging the Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu for 30 hours, holding a number of hostages and civilians captive. The Somali government was able to eventually free these hostages and kill the movement’s fighters. The movement’s goal was certainly to kill members of the Somali Federal Government, who chose this hotel as a meeting place. Intelligence reports indicate that the movement’s funding exceeds $15 million each month and that it obtains most of its money through attacks, acts of piracy in the Gulf of Eden, and taxes collected in the regions it controls. The movement’s fighters number about 10,000 men, according to intelligence estimates. Most of the movement’s members receive their training on Eritrean soil. The easy and unregulated movement of people between the borders of most African countries has allowed Al-Shabab to prosper. It has also allowed it to establish close ties with the Boko Haram organization in Nigeria. The US administration made the mistake of withdrawing its force, numbering about 700 men, from Somalia during the administration of former President Barack Obama. However, the Biden Administration revised this position and redeployed the soldiers last May. This might be too late since the vacuum created by the departure of US forces only strengthened local extremist movements. Al-Shabab believes that Africa is the most suitable and convenient continent to establish the dream of the next Islamic caliphate. Its goal is to identify partner organizations in each African country that would allow it to grow its foothold and build up its power without attracting scrutiny from local authorities. – Mounir Adib (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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