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Al-Shabaab: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

The Somalian-based militant Islamist group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on the Kenyan coastal town of Mpeketoni that killed 48 people. Several dozen of the extremists assaulted the police station, set fire to two hotels and sprayed bullets into the street, according to NBC News.

The attacks began at athe Breeze View Hotel where residents were watching the World Cup. The shooters took the men and made the women watch them get shot to death, according to the New York Times.

The militant group, whose full name is Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM), was also responsible for the attack on the Westgate Mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi in the fall of 2013. The assault by unidentified gunmen resulted in 67 deaths, including the four attackers, and more than 175 wounded.

Here’s what you need to know about the extremist group causing chaos across Somalia and Kenya.


1. Al-Shabaab Means The Youth or The Youngsters

Al-Shabaab organized out of the Islamic Courts Union which splintered after Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government and its Ethiopian allies defeated the union in 2006.

The militant group suffers from “increasing levels of infighting” due to no single agenda or goal, according to The National Counterterroism Center. Many of its fighters are interested in defeating the Somali Federal Government instead of waging global jihad.


2. The Group Carried Out the 3-Day Attack on the Westgate Mall

A small number of al-Shabaab followers, possibly as low as eight, organized a well-planned assault on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya that took place between Sept. 21 and Sept. 24, 2013. The siege lasted 80 hours and killed 67 people. The attackers wore combat fatigues and carried assault rifles and grenades.

The extended attack was blamed on “incompetence and infighting among the authorities” who couldn’t organize an adequate response, according to The Guardian. The Kenyan soldiers who took back control of the mall were then reported to have looted the stores while the mall was under lockdown.


3. It Has Ties to Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram

The leader of al-Shabaab, Mukhtar Abu al-Zubair, merged forces with al-Qaeda in 2012. At the time, the Somalian militants had lost control of the capital Mogadishu to African Union troops, and Kenya and Ethiopia had sent troops to push back against the group’s advances.

Al-Shabaab voiced its support for the Nigerian terrorist organization Boko Haram‘s abduction of over 200 girls from a school in the northeastern village of Chibok on April 14. The Somalian extremist group also has a tradition of “forcefully abducting children and conscripting them to fight,” according to Sabahi Online.

The girls are still missing, and Nigeria’s former and revered president Olusegun Obasanjo fears some will never return home, he told BBC’s Hausa-language radio on June 12, according to ABC News Australia.

If you get all of them back, I will consider it a near-miracle … Do you think they [Boko Haram] will hold all of them together up [until] now? The logistics for them to do that, holding over 200 girls together, is too much.

4. Al-Shabaab Wants to ‘Avenge’ the Kenyan Military Presence in Somalia

Kenya sent 2,000 troops into Somalia on October 16, 2011 to secure its eastern board against al-Shabaab’s cross-border raids. Kenyan officials claimed the abductions of tourists and aid workers was the independent country’s final straw against its neighbor. It was the first major military operation for Kenya’s forces, according to Kenya CitizenTV (see video above).

Al-Shabaab has vowed to carry out more terrorist attacks “to avenge” Kenya’s military presence in Somalia, according to NBC News.


5. Foreign Governments Have Issued Travel Warnings For Kenya

The United States Embassy in Nairobi warned American citizens “to exercise caution” when attending activities that would attract large group, such as World Cup viewing parties. Places liks hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and public transportation are vulnerable targets for terrorist attacks.

Britain, Canada and Australia also issued similar warnings. The U.K. government advised against “all but essential” travel within 60 kilometers of the Kenya-Somalia border.

Kenyan officials considered the travel warnings as “economic sabotage,” according to NPR. Tourism accounts for the “second largest source of foreign exchange revenue” for Kenya after agriculture.

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