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The spread of Al Shabaab

From Somalia to Kenya and beyond

The international community has identified Al-Shabaab (AS) as a major threat to international security. The particular focus is on its established links to Al Qaeda (AQ) and the question of an AS expansion of its area of activities beyond Somalia into Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Uganda and beyond. The widespread assumption within the international community has long been that, if left unchecked, AS would expand across the region and as such extend the global reach of its ally, AQ. The primary aim of this research project is to interrogate this widespread assumption.

Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahidin, better known as Al-Shabaab, meaning “The Youth” in Arabic, is the largest militant organisation based in Somalia and is also active in neighbouring countries, most notably Kenya.

It is one of the most enduring Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs) in sub-Saharan Africa. It grew and emerged as an independent organisation and leading member of the Somali insurgency in connection with the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia at the time of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). AS has had ties to AQ since its inception.

The group has engaged in bombings, suicide attacks and armed assaults, especially against Somali government targets, foreign troops, diplomats, and civilians. Key actors in international security and the Global War on Terror have challenged AS directly and indirectly through support to the Somali federal government on the recognition that AS represents a threat to international security and the assumption that it has expansionist intentions beyond Somalia into the region and possibly beyond.

The HUB, in cooperation with Krypteia and the University of Kent, undertook a project to research this assumption. Our report on" The Spread of Al-Shabaab from Somalia to Kenya and Beyond" is the result of a full review of the academic and policy literature on AS, of AS statements, a series of interviews carried out with senior Somali and international officials, AS high-level and low-level defectors, followed by an online workshop involving Hub analysts and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs).

The group’s intentions, capabilities and opportunities regarding expansion are investigated in detail and the primary findings are:

     - AS has the intention to control Somalia and indeed ‘Greater Somalia’;

     - AS is a resilient organization which has demonstrated its capability to transform itself and its activities when necessary;

     - There is little indication that they have the capability to carry out attacks beyond East Africa, but this cannot be discounted;

     - AMISOM, upcoming federal elections as well as reginal dynamics could impact on AS intentions and capabilities;

     - Constant monitoring of potential opportunities which could stem AS expansion is essential in the short to medium-term.


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