A faction of factions

by October 1, 2010

Somali insurgents in training, 2006 (Photo: AP)

The period since the beginning of the two-year Ethiopian military intervention in Somalia in late 2006 has seen the rise to world notoriety of the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab. Already known as the most extreme of the factions making up the Islamic Courts Union which had governed the country before the intervention, al-Shabaab has gone on to become the most effective (and dreaded) armed opponent of the Western-backed transitional government, and now controls large swathes of southern and central Somalia.

But what exactly is al-Shabaab? In the latest issue of The African (Oct/Nov 2010), an informative and well-written bimonthly journal of African affairs published by pan-African think tank The Institute for Security Studies (ISS), senior researcher Anneli Botha examines al-Shabaab and its various sub-groups:

Despite the temptation to view al-Shabaab as a single unified organization, the opposite is true. Analysts estimate that in late 2009, al-Shabaab [was] composed of 12 different groups, all using its label. Its decentralized leadership is, in turn, supported by local religious leaders charged with providing strategic religious guidance.

It is therefore not surprising that besides the common objectives mentioned above, al-Shabaab does not have a single doctrinal blueprint for the organization…

An American profile of al-Shabaab is available from the Council on Foreign Relations here.