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Al-Shabaab flag
Al-Shabaab flag

Al-Shabaab is a Sunni Islamic terrorist group that publicly pledged loyalty to al-Qa‘ida in 2012. The group works to overthrow the Somali Federal Government, expel foreign forces from Somalia, and establish a fundamentalist Islamic state. Since 2014 al-Shabaab has killed more US citizens than any other al-Qa‘ida affiliate, and as of 2022, was its wealthiest component.

Al-Shabaab formed as the military wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which briefly gained control of central and southern Somalia in mid-2006. After the ICU was removed from power by UN-backed Ethiopian forces in December 2006 and disbanded, al-Shabaab remained active and used the foreign intervention to gain support for its struggle against occupying forces. Al-Shabaab’s robust, multiplatform approach to media uses radio broadcasts, websites, and social media platforms to disseminate its propaganda to local and global audiences.

Maintains stronghold in southern Somalia; mainly conducts operations in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

Between 7,000 and 10,000

Al-Shabaab targets US and other foreign military forces, Somali Government and security forces, and civilian targets such as hotels, shopping malls, universities, and busy intersections. The group has carried out mass-casualty operations in Kenya, Somalia, and Uganda, but has never conducted an attack outside East Africa. Al-Shabaab’s complex attacks generally consist of an IED or VBIED detonation, followed by small-arms fire. The group also conducts ambushes, military-style assaults, kidnappings, and assassinations.

The US State Department designated al-Shabaab as a foreign terrorist organization in March 2008. Many of the group’s senior leaders and officials—including explosives experts, operations plotters, and Kenya-based cell leaders—are Specially Designated Global Terrorists.


Ahmed Diriye

Ahmed Diriye
a.k.a. Abu Ubaidah
Amir; group leader since 2014

Abukar Ali Adan, No Photo

Abukar Ali Adan
Deputy amir; former al-Shabaab military chief

Mahad Karate

Mahad Karate
a.k.a. Abdirahman Mohammed Warsame
Finance chief and commander of al-Shabaab’s amniyat (intelligence and security wing); former deputy amir


5 January 2020

Camp Simba, Manda Bay, Kenya

Al-Shabaab conducts an indirect-fire and small-arms attack on the joint US-Kenyan military facility at Manda Bay, killing one US soldier and two US contractors.

15 January 2019

Dusit D2 Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya

Al-Shabaab attacks the Dusit D2 Hotel complex in Nairobi using an IED and small-arms fire, killing 21 people, including one US citizen.

14 October 2017

Mogadishu, Somalia

Al-Shabaab detonates an explosives-laden truck in downtown Mogadishu, killing more than 500 people—including three US citizens—and injuring almost 300 others in the group’s deadliest attack in Somalia.

2 April 2015

Garissa University, Garissa, Kenya

Four al-Shabaab gunmen attack Garissa University, killing 148 people and injuring 100 others in the group’s deadliest attack in Kenya.

21 September 2013

Westgate Mall, Nairobi, Kenya

Four al-Shabaab gunmen conduct a four-day siege at Westgate Mall, killing 67 people and injuring around 200 others in an attack it claims was in retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia.