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Terrorism Watch





Somali group Al-Shabab, which has ties to al-Qaeda, has spent at least three years in the shadow of Nigeria’s Boko Haram as Africa’s deadliest militant group.

But new figures suggest that trend is changing. Al-Shabab was responsible for 4,281 casualties in 2016 compared to 3,499 by Boko Haram according to data collected by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project ( ACLED ) and compiled by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, an institution affiliated to the U.S. Department of Defense.

It is the first time since 2012 that Al-Shabab has overtaken Boko Haram in terms of casualties. It has also overtaken the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), which killed 2,350 people in Africa in 2016.

ISIS has a number of affiliated or aligned groups across the continent, including a splinter of Boko Haram in Nigeria and factions in Libya and Egypt.

So what is behind the change in supremacy among Africa’s militant Islamist groups?

Al-Shabab’s rise

Formed as the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union—which briefly took control of the Somali capital Mogadishu in 2006—Al-Shabab has been battling the Western-backed government in Somalia for more than a decade.

Led by the shadowy Abu Ubaidah, who has a $6 million U.S. bounty on his head, the group has also carried out large-scale attacks in neighboring countries, particularly Kenya.

In 2013, Al-Shabab gunmen killed 67 people in a three-day siege at a shopping mall in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. Two years later, Somali militants besieged a university in Garissa, near Kenya’s border with Somalia, killing 148 people.

Al-Shabab has been on the back foot in recent years as a 22,000-strong African Union force (AMISOM) has pushed the group out of urban areas and into the countryside. U.S. drone strikes have also picked off senior leaders, including the former Al-Shabab chief Ahmed Abdi Godane, who formalized the Somali group’s ties with Al-Qaeda.

But over the past year, Al-Shabab has ramped up its attacks across Somalia, including Mogadishu, as it attempts to destabilize a nascent government and capitalize on a loss of momentum by AMISOM troops.

The group has launched several major raids on AMISOM bases, including a January 2016 attack on the El Adde base when almost 150 Kenyan soldiers were killed. Militants have also regularly detonated suicide bombs in and around government buildings and hotels, and recently launched a gun attack on a popular beach.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, who came to power in February, has declared war on Al-Shabab and offered militants an amnesty if they lay down their weapons. But the group has dismissed the offer and continues to wreak havoc. Most recently, Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for a string of roadside bombs on the Kenyan side of the border, which have killed at least 11 police officers.

Boko Haram’s decline

Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden,” has been fighting an armed insurgency against the Nigerian government since 2009. During its eight-year war, the Islamist militant group has killed tens of thousands of people, displaced more than 2 million and created a massive humanitarian crisis in northeast Nigeria.

The group reached its peak in terms of territory in early 2015, when it controlled land equivalent to the size of Belgium. But since the coming to power of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in May 2015, Boko Haram has suffered from a renewed Nigerian military offensive that has reclaimed almost all of the territory held by the militants.

A multinational force, composed of soldiers from Nigeria and neighboring countries and civilian vigilante groups have also played a role in pinning back the militants into the remote Sambisa Forest, in Nigeria’s Borno State.

While it has come under severe external pressure, Boko Haram has also been hit by internal divisions. Abubakar Shekau, who has led the group since the death of founder Mohammed Yusuf in 2009, pledged allegiance on Boko Haram’s behalf to ISIS in 2015.

But in August 2016, ISIS announced in a publication that a new leader—Abu Musab al-Barnawi—had been chosen to lead its West Africa branch. Shekau rejected the decision, and Boko Haram has since split into two factions—one led by Shekau, the other by Barnawi—which have reportedly clashed.

Both factions of Boko Haram retain the capacity to launch attacks in northeast Nigeria and the Lake Chad area, but the group has turned to increasingly desperate tactics: Child suicide bombers are regularly dispatched to markets and other public spaces by Boko Haram.

But while Al-Shabab has escalated its operations in recent months, Boko Haram historically remains Africa’s biggest militant threat. The Nigerian group has killed more than 29,000 people since 2010, 11,000 more than Al-Shabab in the same period, according to the ACLED data.

Somali News

At least 14 dead, several hurt in car bomb in Somali capital



ABC — At least 14 people were killed and 10 others wounded in a car bomb blast near a hotel in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, Somali officials said Thursday.

Capt. Mohamed Hussein said the explosion occurred near the Weheliye hotel on the busy Makka Almukarramah road. The road has been a target of attacks in the past by the Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabab, the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa.

Most of the casualties were passers-by and traders, Hussein told The Associated Press. The toll of dead and wounded was announced by security ministry spokesman Abdulaziz Hildhiban.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the blast. The group frequently attacks Mogadishu’s high-profile areas such as hotels and military checkpoints. A truck bombing in October killed 512 people in the country’s deadliest-ever attack. Only a few attacks since 9/11 have killed more people. Al-Shabab was blamed.

Thursday’s blast comes almost exactly a month after two car bomb explosions in Mogadishu shattered a months-long period of calm in the city, killing at least 21 people.

The Horn of Africa nation continues to struggle to counter the Islamic extremist group. Concerns have been high over plans to hand over the country’s security to Somalia’s own forces as a 21,000-strong African Union force begins a withdrawal that is expected to be complete in 2020.

The U.S. military, which has stepped up efforts against al-Shabab in the past year with dozens of drone strikes, has said Somali forces are not yet ready.

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Terrorism Watch

Somali forces kill 32 Al-Shabaab fighters in central Somalia



MOGADISHU, March 17 (Xinhua) — Thirty-two Al-Shabaab militants were killed in a fierce fighting with the Somali National Army (SNA) in the past 24 hours, Somali officials said on Saturday.

Ahmed Mohamed Teredisho, Somali Army Commander in Hiiraan region, told reporters that the fighting took place in Hiiraan region after armed Al-Shabaab members tried to impose taxes on villagers around Mahas town.

“We have killed 32 Al-Shabaab militants at an area about 28 km to Mahas town in Hiiraan region after heavy fighting with Al-Shabaab fighters. SNA soldiers were reinforced by locals to help fight the enemy in the region in the past 24 hours,” Teredisho said.

He did not disclose the number of soldiers or civilians injured in the latest fighting in central Somalia.

The locals said the government soldiers backed with villagers engaged in more than six hours of battle with the insurgents.

Al-Shabaab militants have not commented on the military victory claimed by the Somali government officials in the region.

A resident told Xinhua by phone that confrontation was first staged between locals and Al-Shabaab fighters and then Somali Army later joined to defeat the militants.

Meanwhile, Somali security officials said a roadside bomb has targeted a pickup vehicle carrying members of the security forces in the outskirts of Mogadishu.

The officials said on Saturday that a remote-controlled landmine struck the vehicle along the road between Mogadishu and Afgoye, injuring two security forces and a civilian.

The Saturday attacks by Al-Shabaab militants was the latest in series of improvised explosive device blasts targeting Somali and Africa Union mission troops on the key road linking Mogadishu to Afgoye district in the recent past.

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Briefing Room

US lists Shabaab’s leader in Kenya, wanted commander as global terrorists



The US State Department added Ahmad Iman Ali, the leader of Shabaab’s network in Kenya, and Abdifatah Abubakar Abdi, a dangerous Kenyan commander, to its list of Specially Designated Global terrorists on March 8. The two Shabaab leaders have fueled the group’s insurgency in Kenya and southern Somalia for the past decade and are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

Ahmad Iman Ali

Ali was appointed by Shabaab to lead its group in Jan. 2012, just three days after the Muslim Youth Center (MYC) merged with Shabaab and announced that it was “part of al Qaeda East Africa.”

“Allah favours our beloved al Shabaab, and al Shabaab in return has placed the responsibility of waging jihad in Kenya in the capable Kenyan hands of our Amiir Sheikh Ahmad Iman Ali,” the MYC said when it announced that it joined Shabaab.

Additionally, the MYC said that Ali is following in the footsteps of “brother Fazul,” or Fazul Mohammed, the former leader of al Qaeda’s operations in East Africa who also served as a senior leader in Shabaab. Fazul was indicted along with Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and other top al Qaeda leaders by the US government for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Somali troops killed Fazul at a checkpoint south of Mogadishu in June 2011.

Ali was a cleric for the Muslim Youth Center, and he has advocated for Muslims to wage jihad across the world.

“[If you] are unable to reach the land of jihad, the land of ribat, like the land of Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Algeria, or Iraq, if you are unable to reach these lands which have established the banner of tawheed and the Shariah of Allah, then raise your sword against the enemy that is closest to you,” Ali said when he was named to lead Shabaab’s operations in Kenya.

According to the MYC, Ali has fought in southern Somalia, where he led other Kenyans against Somali troops and African Union forces. State’s designation said that Ali is the “director of the group’s Kenyan operations, which has targeted Kenyan African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops in Somalia,”

According to State, Ali was responsible for the Jan. 2016 assault on a Kenyan base in El Adde, Somalia. The United Nations later found that “150 Kenyan soldiers were killed during the attack, making it the largest military defeat in Kenyan history.” Additionally, 11 kenyan soldiers were captured. [See LWJ reports, Shabaab overruns African Union base in southern Somalia and Kenyan soldier held hostage since Jan. 2016 appears in Shabaab video.]

In addition to serving as Shabaab’s leader in Kenya and its operational commander against Kenyan forces in southern Somalia, Ali is a propagandist, a recruiter who targets “poor youth in Nairobi slums,” and a fundraiser.

Abdifatah Abubakar Abdi

Abdi, who is also known as Musa Muhajir, leads a group of Kenyan jihadists who have been described by the Kenyan government as “bloodthirsty, armed and dangerous,” according to The Nation. In 2015, the government put him at the top of a list of wanted jihadists.

“He is believed to be planning further attacks at the Coast. He is currently in Boni Forest with his associates,” a Kenyan government report that detailed the activities of Abdi and other jihadists noted.

State noted that Abdi is “wanted in connection with the June 2014 attack in Mpeketoni, Kenya that claimed more than 50 lives.” Shabaab claimed the brutal attack and claimed it was carried out to punish Kenya for deploying troops to Somalia.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.

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