With this latest attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi Kenya much has been said of the gradual decline of Al-Shabab by security officials. The popular opinion appears to be that Al-Shabab is an organization in its dying days. The effort by UN and Kenyan forces to push the organization out of its strongholds combined with a withdrawal of foreign fighters, and poor public support are said to have crippled Al-Shabab.
Despite these claims Al-shabab remains intact in many parts of Somalia and one of the few al-Qaeda organizations that maintains a consistent and active social media presence on facebook, twitter and alqimmah.net. Much of this presence is devoted towards demonstrating its activities within Somalia, however an equal amount of effort has been directed towards the recruitment of foreign nationals from Europe, the United States and Canada. Mapping the social network of Al-Shabab on Facebook
Following along the lines of Inspire magazine Al-shabab has been progressive in its English language recruitment and training videos. Many of Al-Shabab’s fighters have recorded their martyrdom videos in English which were then distributed to the internet. Al-Shabab’s former US recruit, Omar Hammami was even known to produce jihadi rap videos. That is until his recent demise at the hands of the same terrorist organization for a very public difference of opinion.
Of greater concern to me are the activities of Al-Shabab in country over the last two years. While many nations were indifferent to one of the largest droughts to hit Somalia in a generation Al-Shabab attempted to established itself as a presence that could care for the population. The latest figures by the UN estimate that nearly 260,000 civilians were killed by famine with half of those being children.
Images captured from Al-Shabab Facebook page.
Examining these 2011 social media promotional pictures Al-Shabab can be seen hosting a community event providing food, transportation, music, gifts and their own brand of Islam. In the second image children can be seen brandishing toy ak-47s on stage below the banner of Al-Shabab.
Many analyst have speculated as to where the latest batch of recruits were drawn from. Given that numerous foreign fighters are still unaccounted for it is very likely that they made up some of the attackers in this latest terrorist incident. If, however, we are to believe Al-Shabab’s own images it would appear they may have created inroads with a second generation of disaffected youth in Somalia. Youth that most definitely felt abandoned by western countries during this last famine while the terrorists held out their hand. Proof yet again that counter-terrorism involves more than just killing and displacing terrorists. It requires us to be a reliable presence in a time of need or risk losing that influence to those who will provide.
By Jeff R. Weyers and Camie Condon