Al-Shabaab: Origins, Causes and Dynamics
The original name of the group of al-Shabaab is “Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM)” meaning “Mujahedeen Youth Movement” in Arabic, shortly known as “al-Shabaab”, meaning “The Youth”. The group was established in 2004 as the militant wing of the Union of the Islamic Courts (UIC). The group particularly targets the government buildings of Somalia, the military troops of Ethiopia, the African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the international peacekeeping operations deployed in the country. The group also attacks on the strategic interests of the West in and out of Somalia. Importantly, it particularly threatens Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and the countries that have sent soldiers to the AMISOM. In March 2008, the US adopted the group of Al-Shabaab as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). In February 2010, the group announced that it merged with Al-Qaeda.
With the official merging with the al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab has developed a global vision and increased its popularity in East Africa and in the world. Particularly, the group had a nationalistic view in the early years of the group. The collaboration between al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab in the beginning of 2010 provided a more dynamism for the group. According to Rob, the partnership with al-Shabaah has increased the sphere of influence of al-Qeada, while al-Shabaab has strengthened its legitimacy and financial structure with this partnership. Al-Sabaab did its first attacks outside of Somalia in Uganda in July 2010, killed more than 70 persons. It is important to note that Uganda was the first country sending its troops and has maintained the largest military troops at the AMISOM since July 2013. Its first attack on Uganda also showed that the group has developed a more global vision to gain support and legitimacy.
The international community has paid a great deal of attention of the activities of the Al-Shabaab after it attacked the civilians at a shopping mall in Nairobi in September 2013, killed 59 persons. Al-Shabaab claimed that the group targeted the civilians in Kenya due to the fact that Kenya intervened militarily in the southern Somalia in October 2011 and also it has the four thousand Kenyan soldiers in Somalia working within the framework of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). After this attack, al-Shabaab became more apparent and gained more recognition in East Africa and in the world. Hasan Aweys is the spiritual leader of the group, who was a colonel during the regime of Siad Biarre and fought against Ethiopia in the 1970s. Ahmed Abdi Godane has served as the leader of the group of Al-Sabaab since 2008. The group has controlled over the most of the southern and central Somalia. The main targets of the al-Sbabaab are to topple the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) established in August in 2012, to take control over the whole country, unite the Somali-inhabited regions in Kenya and Ethiopia, and to create an Islamic state.
Its history can be traced back to the establishment of the Al-Ittihad al Islamiya (AIAI), which was formed to topple the regime of Siad Barre and create an Islamic State. In 1984, the AIAI emerged with the uniting of the two important groups in Somalia, namely Wahdat Al Shabab (Unity of Islamic Youth) and Al-Jama'a Al-Islamiya (Islamic Association). The both groups were created to fight against the corruption, poverty, the regime of Siad Barre and the Western policies in the country. Importantly, the military regime of Siad Barre radicalized and marginalized the Somalis. The Somalis were especially against the increasing strategic partnerships between the Western powers and the regime of Siad Barre. After the AIAI became successful in toppling the military regime of Barre in 1991, it attacked the western region of Ethiopia to annex the region of Ogaden but failed to do it. On 22 September 1991, the AIAI announced itself as an official political party of Somalia and began to work as a political party throughout the country, opened schools, companies, orphanages, and created jobs and recruited many members for its party. It was re-established the group to revitalize within the framework of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). On 23 September 2001, the US put the AIAI on the list of its terrorist organization. It can be said that the AIAI created a political and social environment for the emergence of the group of al-Shabaab. After the regime of Siad Barre, Somalia has not succeeded to establish a central government which maintains lasting law and order. Since 1991, 14 international peace processes initiated by international and regional actors have been failed. The most successful one was that a TFG was created in 2006. It can be said that the failure of the establishment of an effective central government in Somalia has led to the emergence of al-Shabaab.
In 2006, the UIC controlled over Mogadishu, the largest parts of the southern and central parts of Somalia. The increasing power of the UIC became a big threat for the TFG, the neighboring countries, and the strategic interests of the Western powers in East Africa. In December 2006, the Ethiopian military troops with the assistance of the US entered the country, defeated the UIC and took control over Mogadishu. The War in Somalia lasted for the two years between the UIC and the Ethiopia and the TFG (2006-2009). In January 2009, Ethiopia withdrew its troops from the country. The military intervention of Ethiopia in Somalia has led to the emergence of nationalistic movements in Somalia under the leadership of al-Shabaah and Al-Shabaah became the only fighting force against the Ethiopian intervention. In 2007, the UIC was divided into different factions, including moderate and extremists. The moderate group joined the TFG under the leadership Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed who became the president of the TFG in 2009. The extremist group fractured into two main factions, namely Al-Shabaab and Islamic Party (Hizbul Islam) ruled by Hassan Dahir Aweys. As of 2006, the UIC has increasingly become a significant political power in south and central Somalia and took full control of Mogadishu. After the withdrawal of Ethiopia, al-Shabaab has become the most effective insurgent force in the country.
Importantly, the intervention of Ethiopian forces in Somalia made the above mentioned two groups more radicalized and marginalized in the society of Somalia. It is important to underline that the intervention of Ethiopia has played a significant role in emerging the group of al-Shabaab. The mentioned groups have ambitiously tended to fight against the foreign invaders and in particular Al-Sbahaab has cooperated with different organizations and foreign fighters such al-Qaeda so as to increase its strategic power, throughout the country and in the region. It can be argued that al-Shabaab was born as a loose organization composed of the two important functions. The first one is that it has created its military identity within the framework of the UIC. The second one is that it has aimed to gain a political power through the religious courts. It is like that al-Shabaab will continue to carry out its attacks to destabilize economic and political stability in the country in order to strengthen their power and gain legitimacy until the structural problems of Somalia are solved. Poverty, conflict and war, underdevelopment, corruption have marginalized the society and contributed to the emergence and the reinforcement of al-Shabaab.
 The Guardian, "Somalia Militant Group al-ShaBaab Formally Joins al-Qaida", http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/feb/09/somali-al-shabaab-join-al-qaida (4 August 2014).
 Homeland Security Policy Institute, "Somalia's Al-Shabaab: Down But Not Out", HSPI Issue Brief 22, 2013, p. 12.
 Rob, Wise, "Al Shabaab", Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2011, p. 6.
 Tristan, McConnell, “5 Reasons Al Shabaab Militants Attacked Kenya”, Globalpost, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/130926/5-reasons-al-shabaab-attacked-nairobi-kenya-westgate-somalia (13 August 2014).
 David, Shinn, “Al Sbahaab’s Foreign Threat to Somalia”, 2011, Foreign Policy Research Institute, p. 203-4.
 Abdirrahman “Aynte” Ali, “The Anatomy of al-Shabaab”, unpublished paper, pp. 11-15.
 Rob, Wise, "Al Shabaab", Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2011, p. 5.
 Homeland Security Policy Institute, "Somalia's Al-Shabaab: Down But Not Out", HSPI Issue Brief 22, 2013, pp. 3-4.
 David, Shinn, “Al Sbahaab’s Foreign Threat to Somalia”, 2011, Foreign Policy Research Institute, p. 206.