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
TACTICS AND TARGETS
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.
FOREIGN TERRORIST GROUP DESIGNATION
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.