A closer look at Somalia’s al-Shabab terror group

A vehicle burns after a car bomb exploded in front of the Sahafi Hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia, 01 November 2015. Unknown attackers exploded a car bomb in front of a popular hotel before storming inside, killing at least 12 people, reports said. No immediate claim of responsibility was made, but Somalia's Islamist militant group al-Shabab has carried out similar attacks in the past. EPA/SAID YUSUF WARSAME



One man from the United States who joined the Somali terror militia group al-Shabab over seven years ago has handed himself over to authorities in Somalia.  A second man, also from the US, has defected from the group.

Deutsche Welle, Germany’s state run international broadcaster, spoke to Laura Hammond from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, to ask about the significance of the defections.

“I think there is some kind of rift which is not necessarily new. There’s the rift between those who would like to see more of a link to al-Qaeda, to the wider, transnational networks, and on the other side there are those who are focused on the struggle within Somalia and are less concerned about an international jihad. That’s one rift and then there is another one apparently between those who would like to have an alliance with al-Qaeda and those who would like to have an alliance with IS more broadly.”

Asked whether this internal fighting might suggest the group is weakening, she said: “I don’t think the group is necessarily weakened. These kinds of tensions and splits have been going on for quite a long time within the movement. It tends not to have a huge impact overall, they are still able to pose a significant threat inside Somalia. This does not mean the end of al Shabab, it’s not disintegrating. But the tensions between the leaders of different factions within al-Shabab limit their effectiveness in the sense that they are not completely unified around a central goal. However, that has been the case for quite a long time.

“Al-Shabab has a very decentralised character and the way in which it operates on the ground and the way its members are affiliated with it as a movement depends very much on which leaders within the movement they ally themselves with most strongly,” Hammond explained.

As for those within al-Shabab who feel that they want to align themselves closer to Islamic State, she said they seem to be influenced by the fact that IS has been attracting a lot more attention in recent months than al-Qaeda and seems to be quite successful at fundraising as well as at attracting recruits.

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