Article written

  • on 30.09.2013
  • at 05:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Weakening Al-Shabaab Finds New Aggression 0

Addis Ababa – Strong action now expected against the al-Shabaab group may well end up strengthening the group rather than weakening it, local people fear. The extremist group is suspected of involvement in the attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi.

In the new round of confrontation expected, many people fear they will suffer most. “As always when these attacks happen, we are the ones who end up suffering,” a 23-year-old student who gave his name only as Mohammed told IPS on phone from Somali capital Mogadishu. “When the politicians and armies fight, our suffering is pushed aside.”

The Islamist group had been on the back foot in Somalia for some time. It faced dwindling support in recent years from an increasing disenfranchised diaspora and from a Somali population growing increasingly tired of violence.

Several signs have emerged of a weakening of the group. In recent months, al-Shabaab was kicked out of Bakara Market and Kismayo port in Somalia. These were two strategic locations for the group, and huge sources of their income.

Despite an increase in the murder of journalists and bombings in the capital, a serious attack on the national courts and on the UNDP compound in Mogadishu, many analysts had been pointing to a diminishing al-Shabaab. The Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) had been heralded for bringing in a new era of stability for Somalia which saw diaspora returning and restoration of a certain degree of normality.

“Support for al-Shabaab in Somalia is low,” Ahmed Soliman, Somalia expert at the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) told IPS. “Their insurgent tactics targeting innocent civilians gain little support from Somalis who suffer from their actions or Kenyan ethnic-Somalis, who have to endure the negative consequences of being associated with this violence.”

But, he said, “there is a minority at home and abroad who will be emboldened by this attack and who may seek to support the efforts of al-Shabaab.”

The attack on Westgate could seek to draw strength from its growing weakness. The group could capitalise on the reasons for its origin.

Following the U.S-backed invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia and an African force in 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that had been dominant in ruling Somalia was driven out of the capital. A youth wing of the ICU took up arms against the “invaders”. The group, known as al-Shabaab, or ‘the youth’, continues to fight foreign forces.

After Ethiopia sent in significant forces against it in 2011 to bolster Kenyan and African Union troops, al-Shabaab has faced several strategic setbacks. These led to infighting between leaders of the group. It is believed that some leaders were concerned that others were becoming too involved with the global jihadist movement and al-Qaeda.

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