A Department of Homeland Security Emeritus Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

BAAD - Al-Shabaab - 2012



Al-Shabaab was formed as the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a coalition of 11 local sharia courts,[2]  as early as 2004[3] but did not become truly active until 2006.[4]

The roots of al-Shabaab lie with al Itihaad al Islamiya (AIAI), a militant group of Somali Wahhabis active during the 1980s and 1990s.[5] Like the AIAI, al-Shabaab’s goal is to eliminate Western-backed forces operating in Somalia, overthrow the Western-backed Somali national government, and make Somalia an Islamic state founded in Wahhabi ideals.[6] Due to the lack of a powerful central government, al-Shabaab operated almost without restraint in southern Somalia, recruiting and training new members and even functioning as the local administration in some areas.[7]

From 2006 to 2008, al-Shabaab capitalized on the nationalist zeal harbored by many Somalis, stirred up as a result of the Ethiopian invasion, expanding their numbers from a mere 400 fighters in 2006[8] to a couple thousand fighters in 2008.[9] This growth allowed al-Shabaab to continue to carry out attacks throughout southern and central Somalia including assassinations, bombings, and attacks on Ethiopian and Somalia’s transitional federal government (TFG) forces.

On October 29, 2008, Shirwa Ahmed became the first known suicide bomber with American citizenship.[10] In February 2010, al-Shabaab took steps towards expanding its international focus by announcing the connection of its current jihad in the Horn of Africa to the global jihad waged by al-Qa’ida.[11] Al-Shabaab carried out its first attack outside of Somalia on July 11, 2010, killing 70 people in coordinated bombings at a sports club and restaurant in Kampala, Uganda, where people had gathered to watch the World Cup finals.[12]

In August 2011, AMISOM and Somali forces were able to push al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu, forcing the organization to retreat once again to the rural parts of central and southern Somalia.[13] Following the withdrawal, Ahmed Abdi Godane, the emir of al-Shabaab, announced an official alliance between al-Shabaab and al-Qa’ida. Al-Shabaab experienced another setback in September 2012 when they lost control of Kismayo, a port city in southern Somalia and a major source of revenue for the group.[14]

Despite internal conflicts, al-Shabaab successfully conducted an attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that lasted from September 21 to September 24, 2013, leaving 68 dead.[15] Since then, al-Shabaab has remained active throughout southern and central Somalia, continuing to carry out smaller scale attacks against AMISOM and Somali forces. Ethiopia officially joined AMISOM on January 22, 2014 increasing the number of troops operating in Somalia to 22,000.[16] March 2014 marked the beginning of an AMISOM-led offensive against al-Shabaab. The push has been successful in limiting al-Shabaab’s territorial control but has been unable to eliminate their capacity to carry out attacks throughout the country and abroad.[17] View full narrative

Quick Facts for 2012


1663 (Total of 1998 through 2012)



Territorial Control:
Controls Territory (1)

Funding through Drug Trafficking:

Sorry, but there are no organizational details available for this group at this time.


Primary Ideology

  • Ag = Anti-Globalization
  • An = Anarchist
  • En = Ethnic
  • Ev = Environmental
  • Le = Leftist
  • Re = Religious
  • Ri = Rightist
  • Se = Separatist
  • Su = Supremacist
  • Vi = Vigilante


  •  Ally
  •  Suspected Ally
  •  Rival
  •  Violence
  •  Mixed Relations


  •  Blue 0 - 1479 fatalities
  •  Green 1479 - 2958 fatalities
  •  Yellow 2958 - 4437 fatalities
  •  Orange 4437 - 5916 fatalities
  •  Red 5916 - 7396 fatalities

Lethality is calculated as the total number of fatalities from 1998-2012.


Icon sizes depict approximate relative sizes of the organizations.

  • Smallest 0 - 10 members
  •   11 - 100 members
  •   101 - 1000 members
  •   1001 - 10000 members
  • Largest > 10000 members

Other Notes

Icons with no color coding or ideology icon have no detailed data at this time, and are provided as relationship information only.