Militants from the Somalia-based terrorist organization known as al-Shabab attacked a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, on September 21, killing at least 62 people in injuring 175 more.
The attack is part of an ongoing battle in East Africa against Islamist militants. Al-Shabab used a Twitter handle that has now been disabled to announce that the attack was revenge for Kenya sending in troops to neighboring Somalia to battle the terrorist organization.
“For long we have waged war against the Kenyans in our land, now it’s time to shift the battleground and take the war to their land,” said one tweet.
Kenya is part of a coalition of African Union forces that, with the backing of the United States and other Western governments, went into Somalia in 2011 to weaken al-Shabab. Now, al-Shabab is demanding that Kenya remove these troops. The group also attacked Uganda, another country in the coalition forces, in twin bombings in Kampala, Uganda during the 2010 World Cup final.
What is al-Shabab?
Al-Shabab, meaning “the youth” in Arabic, is a multi-national group of fighters based in the southern region of Somalia. They claim to be inspired by Wahhabism, a political and fundamental version of Islam from Saudi Arabia. While al-Shabab gained popularity by promising security in the region, their destruction of Sufi Islam shrines, the religion of the majority of Somalis, has cost them much of their support.
Al-Shabab has ties to the terrorism network al-Qaida, which carried out the 9/11 attacks on the United States. In February 2012 the two groups announced an alliance and al-Shabab leader Mukhtar Abu Zubair pledged allegiance to the global terror movement.
In 2006, Islamists briefly gained control of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. The government and various Islamist groups, including al-Shabab, traded power back and forth until the 2011 offensive by U.N. and African Union forces that pushed them out of the capital.
(Note: HSM stands for the Arabic name of the group – Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen – meaning roughly, “Jihad Youth Movement”)
For more, visit the NewsHour’s guide: What is al-Shabab?
Somalia unstable for more than 20 years
Somalia, a country of ten million people on the eastern Horn of Africa, had been without a functioning government for more than two decades. In 1991, Somalian President Siad Barre was overthrown by opposing clans, who then failed to agree on how to govern the country.
The southern portion of Somalia is the most dangerous, while thenorthern parts of Puntland and Somaliland are separate autonomous regions that enjoy relative stability and safety.
Beyond the violence, Somalia suffered a terrible drought in 2011. Thehead of the U.N. refugee agency called the resulting famine the “worst humanitarian disaster in the world.”