Thursday morning’s attack by Al Shabab at a university in eastern Kenya left 147 dead and dozens more wounded. While Al Shabab, a Somalian extremist group, claimed sole responsibility for the attack, the group is not necessarily an isolated, independent entity. The group has foreign ties to one large, well-known terrorist group — specifically, Al Qaeda. So, just how are Al Shabab and Al Qaeda connected?
According to BBC, the official alliance between the two dates back to February 2012, when a former Al Shabab leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, released a video announcing he had “pledged obedience” to the head of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. But the two had ties years before the video surfaced, the Council on Foreign Relations (CRF) reports.
Between 2006 and 2008, the number of fighters in the Islamist nationalist group jumped from 400 to thousands, and it was during this time that the group’s connections to Al Qaeda began forming. In 2008, the U.S. officially dubbed Al Shabab a terrorist organization. Two years after that, in 2010, the CRF reports that Al Shabab promised it would “connect the horn of Africa jihad to the one led by al Qaeda and its leader Sheikh Osama bin Laden.”
Moreover, Al Shabab’s predecessor, the group Al Ittihad Al Islami (IAIA), was partially funded by Al Qaeda’s former leader bin Laden, according to CFR. IAIA is responsible for the creation of Somalia’s Islamist emirate. A 2003 rift between the older and younger members of IAIA led to the creation of Al Shabab — which means “the youth” — which wants to establish fundamental Islamic rule in Somalia.
But CNN reports that while Al Shabab was previously a “ragtag al Qaeda affiliate,” it now is an independent stronghold that garners millions in funding through various means such as extortion and illegal taxation. Back in 2011, Al Shabab was getting between $70 million and $100 million dollars annually in funding. The U.S. believed that the group was involved in plots with Al Qaeda both regionally and abroad.
However, as of Thursday, Al Qaeda and Al Shabab might not be so chummy. According to Horseed Media, an independent news organization in Somalia, Al Qaeda might have cut ties with Al Shabab. Horseed Media claims that, since Al Shabab’s former leader Godane was killed in a U.S. airstrike, the two organizations have not had any relations.
But even if this news is true, Al Qaeda is not the only group with which Al Shabab has been rumored to be affiliated. BBC reports that the group might also be connected with other African terrorist groups, such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram. Regardless of Al Shabab’s relationship with other organizations though, Thursday’s events showed that it is plenty capable of committing atrocities single-handedly.
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