L o a d i n g

Harakaat Al-Shabaab Al-Mujaahidiiin, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the Horn of Africa, has long been perceived as a Somali organisation – albeit one that represents a security threat to the wider region. But since at least 2010, Al-Shabaab has aspired to become a truly regional organisation, with membership and horizons that transcend national borders. In 2010 the group staged its first major external operation, in Kampala, Uganda, and issued its first propaganda video in the Swahili language. Since then, Al-Shabaab has become active in no less than six countries of the region, striking five of them with terrorist attacks.

Al-Shabaab is clearly no longer an exclusively Somali problem and requires a concerted international response. This determined expansion of Al-Shabaab’s ambitions and operational reach is in large part the result of the strategic direction adopted by Al-Shabaab’s former leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, and his successor, Ahmed Diiriye, who currently heads the movement. In late 2013, Godane re-organised Al-Shabaab’s military wing to include two transnational units: one, the Jaysh Ayman, directed against Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, and another dedicated to operations against Ethiopia. While the latter formation has yet to mount an effective operation on Ethiopian soil, the Jaysh Ayman launched a series of cross-border attacks into Kenya in 2014 and, despite a Kenyan counter-offensive in late 2015, the group remains a serious threat to the country’s national security.

In 2013, Godane also gave instructions for Al-Shabaab’s special operations wing, the Amniyaad, to step up attacks against neighbouring countries, notably those contributing troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). This resulted in a spate of attacks between 2013 and 2015 in Kenya that claimed over 350 lives, an attempted suicide bombing of a football match in Addis Ababa in October 2013, and the suicide bombing of a popular restaurant in Djibouti in May 2014. In October 2014, Al-Shabaab again attempted a suicide bombing in Addis Ababa, this time apparently targeting a busy shopping mall, but the plot was detected and foiled.

Al-Shabaab-affliated networks in Kenya also continued to plan terror attacks during this period, but less successfully than Jaysh Ayman. Al-Hijra, Al-Shabaab’s Kenyan affliate, experienced growing pressure from the security services, and suffered a steady attrition of its leadership. As a result, Al-Hijra cadres withdrew from major hubs of activity in Nairobi and Mombasa, dispersing their radicalisation and recruitment efforts throughout the country – notably within the prison system. Al-Hijra operatives and recruits – including a growing proportion of women – continued to travel back and forth to Somalia, typically receiving training and instructions before returning to Kenya to engage in operations.

Kenya also witnessed increasing activity among Al-Shabaab sympathisers, organising themselves spontaneously online via social media and mobile applications. While Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, and Tanzania. Of these, only Tanzania has not been targeted, while an attempted suicide attack in Ethiopia ended when the bombers accidentally blew themselves up without causing any other casualties.

Many of these individuals remain purely aspirational, some have gone on to plan operations, reaching out to members of Al-Shabaab or Al-Hijra for guidance and support. Others have sought advice concerning travel to Somalia or Syria. Confronted by the evolving threat, regional states are exploring ways to strengthen their common response to Al-Shabaab. AMISOM, whose forces are drawn mainly from IGAD countries, continues to support the efforts of the Somali Federal Government and emerging federal member states to confront Al-Shabaab militarily, steadily driving the jihadists out of the last remaining strongholds and helping to build the capacity of Somali security forces. Outside Somalia, IGAD Member States have devoted greater efforts to monitoring and disrupting Al-Shabaab activities within their borders. The Heads of Intelligence and Security Services (HISS) of the member countries of IGAD and the East African Community (EAC) met twice in 2015 to deepen security cooperation and harmonise efforts to fight terrorism and violent extremism.

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