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The US and Somali governments have previously accused Al Shabab of having ties to Al Qaeda, but these have not been confirmed until now. The announcement suggests that the group’s identity is evolving: It has been focused on a nationalist agenda to establish an Islamic state in Somalia, but now seems to be moving toward a larger role in the global terror network.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the group issued a Somali- and Arabic-language statement on Monday claiming that it would “connect the horn of Africa jihad to the one led by al Qaeda and its leader Sheikh Osama Bin Laden."
The BBC reports that Al Shabab has also joined forces with Kamboni, a smaller militant outfit in Somalia, which was previously allied to Hizbul Islam, another antigovernment militant group. This alliance is seen as an attempt by Al Shabab to unite all extremist forces in Somalia to push for the imposition of Islamic law. Kamboni is led by Hassan Turki, a militant who is accused by the US of financing terrorism.
A profile of the Al Shabab group in The Middle East Quarterly, however, points out that Al Qaeda has long been receptive to Al Shabab’s overtures toward the global terror network. According to the profile, Al Qaeda took note of developments in Somalia as early as 2006, when Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called for Muslims in Somalia to fight Ethiopia.
Al Shabab’s announcement comes as Somali troops are fighting militants in Mogadishu. At least 16 people have been killed and 71 injured in clashes over the weekend, reports Al Jazeera. The peacekeeping African Union mission stationed in Mogadishu since 2007 becomes more complicated with Al Shabab’s affiliation with Al Qaeda. The Times Online reports that 5,300 peacekeepers – out of a mandated 8,000 – are tasked with protecting the Somali Transitional Federal Government from militants. Seventy peacekeepers have been killed in Mogadishu since their arrival three years ago.
Nairobi has also been on high alert as Al Shabab has vowed to attack the Kenyan capital, according to the Toronto Star. Kenya, with its porous borders with Somalia, has become a key transit point for Western fighters lured by Internet propaganda to join Al Shabab.
New York Times
Christian Science Monitor