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Active in Locations:

  • Somalia
  • Kenya
  • Ethiopia
  • Djibouti


  • Al-Shabaab’s primary objective is the establishment of an Islamist state in the Horn of Africa based on Sharia law and the elimination of secular and foreign influence, including through violent means. On 9 February 2012, al-Shabaab pledged its allegiance to proscribed terrorist organization al-Qaeda.
    • This Islamic state in the Horn of Africa would include not only Somalia but also Djibouti, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
  • aims to overthrow the Western-backed successor Federal Parliament on its own, carrying out vicious suicide bombing attacks and other acts of brutality against “enemies of Islam” among the Horn of Africa’s Christian and Sufi Muslim population. Committed to ultra-conservative Wahhabi Islam, al-Shabaab intends to run Somalia in accordance with strict Sharia principles. 1
  • many analysts say different factions within the group have different objectives, though al-Shabab as a whole continues to pursue its broad aim of establishing an Islamic state in Somalia. A major cleavage among the group’s leaders divides those known as nationalists, who largely seek to oust the central government, from militants with transnational aims. 2

Recruitment Methods:

  • Al-Shabab’s recruitment efforts take place primarily within Somalia and Kenya, though its online recruitment strategy has targeted the United States as well.
  • al-Shabab seeks to recruit Somali adolescents and young adults.
  • In January 2017, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres estimated that more than half of al-Shabab’s fighters may be children.
    • Many children forced to join, some enticed to join by money
    • A 14-year-old Somali recruit, interviewed by the Institute for Security Studies in September 2014, said, “[W]hen you join, they give you mobile phone and every month you get $50. This is what pushes a lot of my friends to join.”
  • While al-Shabab recruits males, it has also kidnapped Muslim and Christian women in Somalia and Kenya as sex slaves. The group has forced some girls and women to work in brothels while forcing others into marriages with al-Shabab fighters.
  • Within Somalia, recruiters infiltrate remote, rural areas and approach potential recruits. There have been accounts of recruiters threatening the lives of Somali Muslim men who initially resist joining the group.
  • The group’s use of social media for propaganda has attracted recruits from around the world. Al-Shabab also disseminates recruitment videos dubbed in English and Somali.
  • Al-Shabab provides social services to increase its support among Somalis, partaking in infrastructure construction and collecting money to be redistributed to the poor. Somali youths are also offered salaries of up to $700 a month for joining the militant group and promised additional payments if they bring a wife and children.


  • The group predominantly conducts attacks targeting the Somali government and the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM).
  • Violently persecutes non-Muslims and clashes frequently with humanitarian and international aid workers
  • In its attempts to enforce fundamentalist religious law, al-Shabaab has become notorious for stoning “sinners” to death. Mother-of-eight Habiba Isak, 30, was executed in this manner in the town of Sakow in October 2017 after being accused of being unfaithful to her husband, as was Shukri Abdullahi, 30, in Lower Shabelle five months later, charged with bigamy. The group has also severed the hands of thieves and carried out beheadings in the pursuit of “justice”. 1
  • Al-Shabab struck outside of Somalia for the first time in 2010 when coordinated suicide bombings killed seventy-four people in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. “We are sending a message to every country who is willing to send troops to Somalia that they will face attacks on their territory,” said the group’s spokesman at the time. 2
  • The group has been blamed for attacks in Somalia that have killed international aid workers, journalists, civilian leaders, and African Union, peacekeepers. 3


  • September 21 – 24, 2013: Al-Shabab militants, including a Norwegian citizen of Somali origin and three Somali nationals, raid Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. In the deadliest attack in Kenya in 15 years, the attackers kill 67 people and wounded more than 200 over four days. The victims include six Kenyan security personnel.
  • June 8, 2017: Al-Shabab gunmen and suicide bombers attack a military base in Af Urur in Somalia’s Puntland state, killing 59 people and wounding 38 others. The attackers shoot and behead victims, including civilians. Authorities do not immediately release exact casualty numbers
  • July 13, 2017: Al-Shabab fighters attack a government convoy in southeastern Kenya, killing two police officers and a civilian while kidnapping public works official Maryam Elmaawy. It is al-Shabab’s highest-profile kidnapping in the country to date. Kenyan forces rescue Elmaawy later in the day
  • October 14, 2017: A truck bomb explodes in the center of Mogadishu, killing at least 320 and injuring even more, in Somalia’s worst terror attack to date. Authorities attribute responsibility to al-Shabab.
  • August 29, 2018: An explosion in Lamu County kills five Kenyan soldiers and injures 10 others. Al-Shabab is suspected to be responsible for the attack
  • One of its earliest atrocities was the bombing of a restaurant in Kampala, Uganda, on 11 July 2010, designed to coincide with the Fifa World Cup Final between Spain and the Netherlands, revenge for Uganda’s operations against it as part of the African Union. Seventy-four people were killed watching the game that night. 1





4: counter terrorism project