A major terrorist attack unfolded in Somalia this past weekend when a suicide blast hit the country’s Labor and Public Works and Reconstruction. Following the pattern of prior attacks, the suicide car bomb hit the compound’s perimeter and in the ensuing chaos, a terrorist attack team followed. At least 15 people were killed including Somalia’s Deputy Labor Minister.
The terrorist attack was carried out by al Shabaab. (Al Shabaab is Arabic for “the Youth.”)
Al Shabaab has long been a plague to East Africa. Among the terrorist group’s most infamous acts are the 2013 attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya; the January 2019 attack on the hotel and office complex in Nairobi that killed 21; and last month’s double hotel bombing in Mogadishu that killed 25. While these terrorist acts received the most widespread international coverage for the terrorist organization their activity is far more frequent and sinister in Somalia than is often reported.
Yesterday the group killed 16 people when a car bomb was detonated in Mogadishu. Another 17 people were left injured This is the third car bombing by al Shabaab in less than 10 days. Each of these bombings have resulted in civilian deaths.
Al Shabaab has grown in influence, terror and territorial spread across Somalia since the state’s collapse into anarchy in the early 1990s. They have sought to establish their extremist version of Islamic governance including Sharia law throughout Somalia and ultimately throughout East Africa with brutal means for which their victims have paid dearly.
In 2012 the organization pledged their allegiance to al Qaeda. Since that time a lot of its influence in the urban areas has diminished and the group has been relatively restricted to the rural south of Somalia.
The causes for al Shabaab’s decline in the urban areas of the north has been a strong African Union presence along with the United States drone strike programs. As the AU has withdrawn however the terrorist group has reinserted itself into several locales they previously lost.
The US drone program was activated under President George W. Bush and then accelerated under President Obama. In places like Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and Libya the focus of the drone strikes was to strike and kill leaders of terrorist groups. In the final year of the Obama administration, there were 15 strikes on al Shabaab.
President Trump declared Somalia an area of “active hostilities” when he came into office and has significantly accelerated the drone strikes in Somalia. In 2017 there were 31 US strikes on al Shabaab. In 2018, according to the Department of Defense, 47 strikes on al Shabaab resulted in 326 deaths. The US is already on track to surpass 2018. More than 220 people have been killed in 24 strikes on targets in Somalia in only the first two months of 2019.
While the US is seeking to shrink its footprint in terrorist struggles from Afghanistan to Syria, it is accelerating its efforts in many parts of Africa.