Who Is Al Shabaab, The Militant Cell That Attacked A Kenyan Mall?

westgatebigPhoto: REX USA/William Oeri/Gallo/Rex.
On Saturday, operatives from a militant Islamist group stormed the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. So far, 67 people have been killed and over 200 injured in the attack. Over the weekend, explosions and bursts of gunfire inside the building were reported, leading some to think that the body count would grow even higher. The hostages that were held, however, have all reportedly been released. As of a few hours ago, the siege was officially declared over by the Kenyan government, and control of the mall was taken back. But who is Al Shabaab, the militant organization that claimed responsibility?
Advertisement
The Sunni Islamist group is officially known as Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, but is commonly called Al Shabaab ("The Youth" in Arabic). Based in Somalia, it is an offshoot of Al Qaeda, which it officially joined last year. It was formed in the early 2000s as a militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union, which controlled much of the country until 2006. It gained popularity by fighting Ethiopian forces in Somalia, and enjoyed support by Somalis as a popular resistance movement.
But the group was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States in 2008. The group has claimed responsibility for a number of deadly attacks in the region, including a 2010 suicide bombing of Kampala, Uganda that left 74 dead. Along with another group, Hizbul Islam, Al Shabaab staged a series of attacks on Mogadishu in 2009, with over 1,400 civilians killed.
Al Shabaab is estimated to have somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 followers. It's also believed to have a number of US-born members, including Omar Hammami, also know as Abu Mansoor Al Amriki, a rapping jihadi who was allegedly killed by his former allies earlier this month. Many other American members, who either fight for or fund the group, allegedly stem from the Somali community in Minnesota, which the FBI has been investigating for years.
The mall siege in Nairobi did not come as a total surprise. Al Shabaab warned of attacks in Kenya in retaliation for Operation Linda Nchi, a joint military operation between the armed forces of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, France, and the US. Al Shabaab, which was accused of kidnapping foreign tourists, was the target of the operation, during which 700 militants were killed.
But what does the Nairobi attack signify about Al Shabaab's greater plan? Analysts in the US aren't sure yet. The former US Ambassador to Ethiopia, David Shinn, told ABC that the attack suggested "weakness" because of its target. Al Shabaab, he said, "can only get in the headlines if it attacks a soft undefended civilian location in a neighboring country — it's an indication they're not able to go toe-to-toe with the African Union forces in Mogadishu or in Somalia generally." (ABC)
Advertisement

More from Politics

Update: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney announced in a press conference that dashcam and body cam video of the department's interaction with...
Election Day lasts just one day — a 24-hour culmination of the seemingly never-ending campaign season. But we’ll spend the next two, four, six years ...
What can you do to make the candidates first head-to-head battle as pleasant as possible? What is the secret to keep yourself smizing as you listen to the ...
If the chaotic party politics of the 2016 election have left you feeling completely birdbrained, this video is for you. The Founding Fathers (presented ...
The 2016 presidential election has been a captivating contest. If you feel like sometimes you can't look away, well, you're not alone. Even celebrities ...
In the social order of bonobos, females rule and develop cross-generational bonds to keep the males in check. A senior female takes charge, intervening ...
The first presidential debate is finally upon us. On Monday, our candidates for commander-in-chief will finally go head-to-head on issues that matter ...
1. World News: Puerto Rico has declared a state of emergency after suffering its largest power outage since 1980.The outage left 1.5 million Puerto ...
Update: Officer Betty Shelby, the policewoman who fatally shot Terence Crutcher last Friday, has been charged with first-degree manslaughter, NBC News ...
Step aside, old-school political merch. We're way past bumper stickers and buttons. With the election just months away, people across the country are ...
Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis: Hillary Clinton from Funny Or Die Will Tim Kaine be president for nine months if Hillary Clinton gets pregnant? ...
Goodbye, paperwork printouts and lines at the DMV. Hello, registering while in line for coffee. Starting today, you can register to vote over text ...
1. Here At Home: No charges will be filed against police in the shooting death of Korryn Gaines. Korryn Gaines, 23, was shot and killed on August 1 ...
It happened again. This week, two Black men went from living, breathing human beings to hashtags. And yet, despite all I hear about hashtag activism, I'm...