Bullet holes mark a wall on the mall.
(Photo: Carl de Souza, AFP/Getty Images)
Q. What is al-Shabab?
A. Al-Shabab is an Islamic terrorist force that grew out of the anarchy that crippled Somalia after warlords ousted a longtime dictator in 1991. Allied with al-Qaeda, its name means "The Youth" in Arabic and it seeks to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the East African nation.
Al-Shabab is estimated to have several thousand fighters, including a few hundred foreign fighters. Al-Shabab is inspired by the Wahabi version of Islam, the same sect as Osama bin Laden.
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Q. Where is al-Shabab?
A. Al-Shabab won control of almost all of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, in 2006, and held large swaths of central and southern Somalia until a force from the African Union, including soldiers from neighboring Kenya and Uganda, pushed the militants out of the city in 2011. The United States backed the first African intervention.
Al-Shabab still controls many rural areas in Somalia where they impose strict shariah law, including stoning to death women accused of adultery and amputating the hands of accused thieves. It has launched many deadly suicide bomb attacks.
Q. Al-Qaeda links?
A. Al-Shabab leader Mukhtar Abu Zubair has pledged allegiance to the global terror movement al-Qaeda, which seeks to impose Islamic rule by force worldwide. Al-Qaeda's 2002 attacks on an Israeli-owned Kenyan resort in Mombasa and an attempted attack on a plane carrying Israeli tourists are believed to have been planned by an al-Qaeda cell in Somalia.
Q. Where does al-Shabab's money come from?
A. Before African troops moved in, al-Shabab was making a steady income from duties and fees levied at ports and airports as well as extorting taxes on domestic produce and demanding "jihadi" contributions. A United Nations report estimated al-Shabab's income in 2011 at $70 million to $100 million.
Q. What is al-Shabab's status in Somalia?
A. Somalia's first elected government in more than two decades won power a year ago and, together with the African Union force, has the opportunity to create "a window of opportunity to fundamentally change Somalia's trajectory," according to the U.S. State Department.