MOGADISHU, Somalia – Al-Shabaab or Harakat al-Shabaab al Mujahideen, (in Arabic حركة الشباب المجاهدين ) means “The Youth, “The Boys” or the “Youth Movement." Since 1991 Somalia has experienced chaos, anarchy and wide-spread societal instability. Al-Shabaab is nothing more than a large gang network which began its establishment in Somalia in 2006. The gang arose to strength following the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. With no great military force to resist the Ethiopians, al-Shabaab was able to successfully gain thousands of recruits into its ranks. The group has aligned with al Qaeda and has adopted extremist Islamic rhetoric. Now adhering to strict religious Sharia law, al-Shabaab now views Somalia as a global front against the West and western ideologies . Al-Shabaab now dominates large sectors of the central and southern portions of Somalia. It is reported to have links with al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, which aspires to overthrow the Algerian government; and Boko Haram which seeks to take over Nigeria .
Al-Shabaab is comprised of mostly the young and child soldiers. Many recruits are children not yet 18 yrs. of age, both boys and girls. Children are oftentimes kidnapped and made to join the gang and many end up dead or disabled. Americans are also among the recruited of al-Shabaab, having been targeted and radicalized through propaganda. This propaganda received from extremists having infiltrated mosques in America . The declared enemies of al-Shabaab are Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) particularly the Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a (ASWJ) aligned militia, the African Union Peace Keeping Forces (AMISOM), the Ethiopian Troops and the Kenyan Defense Forces. Their further opponents are the West and western ideologies .
A recent focus group talk with al-Shabaab members revealed significant information. The youth listed several factors significant in group recruitment. Sadly, many view the gang as the only way to survive and gain employment to support their families. They earn perhaps $50 – 150 per month to shoulder a weapon and patrol streets. Other factors related to youth involvement include: Fear of Victimization for not joining, revenge against the outside soldier forces that harass their female relatives; and lack of education – having little or no other avenues available for life pursuit. Other dynamics that influenced youth to join included belief they would be heroes fighting for a cause, manipulation into the fight against enemies of Islam and credence they would obtain Paradise due to becoming martyrs on the path of Jihad .
Why did al-Shabaab carry out the drastic attack to kill civilians at a mall in Kenya? It is always difficult to understand why innocent civilians of any population would ever be targeted. Initial reports from the World News declare this attack targeted the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) which is supported by the African Union and Western nations . Further indications from the group itself declared the attack was in retribution for the 2011 Kenyan forces advance into their Somali territory  .
While al-Shabaab inhabits territory in Somalia, the border between Kenya and Somalia is porous. Al-Shabaab stated the recent 9/21 attack on civilians in a Kenyan mall was in retaliation due to Kenya’s military efforts to support Somalia’s government (TFG) . However, the intensity of the problem is difficult to understand. Human Rights Watch 2011 report declares that not only is al-Shabaab to blame for violence, but the TFG has been cited as failing to protect human rights under its jurisdiction. Also cited are instances that both al-Shabaab and the TFG have been responsible for thwarting aid to needy recipients. The TFG has been cited for significant abuses and violations of the Laws of War, and has indiscriminately fired on civilians while attempting to fight with al-Shabaab.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared that at one time 8,430 casualties were treated due to TFG weapon-related violence, and many of these were woman and children. Western Governments, UN, African Union (AU) and many neighboring countries support the TFG, as it is the legitimate government of Somalia. However, experts and key international advisors have recognized the importance of holding the government of Somalia accountable for past abuses .
It must be understood that while al-Shabaab’s members are comprised of the young, they carry out violent and extreme actions. Their guerilla tactics include torture, beheadings, civilian attacks, suicide bombings and beatings. The recent terrorist attack on civilians at the Kenyan mall is a graphic and atrocious display of terrorism. Significantly, it must be noted that while this and many earlier incidents of terror are horrific, terrorism arises from societal stressors and unfortunate human trauma.
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 MJD (2012) Al shabaab’s child soldiers, brainwashing, bribes, kidnapping, part of shabaab’s recruitment process. The Somalia Report.
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