The Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility Tuesday for a bombing at education ministry buildings in Mogadishu, Somalia, which killed at least ten people. According to officials, security forces responded swiftly to get the situation under control, even losing seven members of their ranks.
It is the most recent of several high-profile attacks perpetrated by Al-Shabaab, who also committed the horrific massacre of 148 college students at Garissa University in Kenya, near the country’s shared border with Somalia. The group was also behind the headline-grabbing siege on a Kenyan shopping mall in 2013 that left over 60 people dead, as well as a recent hostage situation at a Mogadishu Hotel that killed 17. Tuesday’s attack on the education ministry marked the 17th attack completed by Al-Shabaab since 2012.
Al-Shabaab has existed in nascent form for several years, but it only leveled-up in 2012 after declaring its allegiance to Al Qaeda. The timing reportedly followed the death of Osama bin Laden, who had expressed disapproval of Al-Shabaab’s high levels of Muslim casualties. Al-Shabaab is known for targeting Christians — Garissa University students who could recite verses from the Quran, for example, were spared. Still, its targeting of Somali officials — even under the guise of fundamentalism — apparently sat poorly with al Qaeda leadership. After bin Laden’s death, however, al Qaeda operatives began training Al-Shabaab, and their ranks have since swelled to several thousand.
The goal of the group seems to be the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic Somali government, which would have close ties to Kenya’s Muslims as well. One activist, Boniface Mwangi, believed this was the chief reason for the Garissa University attack: “Let’s respond with love, not hate,” he tweeted. “Al-Shabab is trying to use religion to divide Kenyans.” In some respects, this effort may be successful: support for Al-Shabaab is highest in Kenya’s poorest northeastern region, which is already demographically, culturally, and economically disenfranchised from Nairobi.
Given the threats posed by militant groups like the Islamic State and Boko Haram, international attention to Al-Shabaab has perhaps been slow to build. (Many analysts have also pointed out that the latter has not been particularly adept at using social media, in contrast with its notoriously web-savvy counterparts.) In the wake of the horrific Garissa University attack, and repeated small-scale assaults, the group may finally be getting the eyeballs it craves. The Telegraph even encouraged its readers not to take Al-Shabaab too seriously, since that is its obvious goal.
The question is whether this attention will translate into action. It’s debatable whether any Western operation to contain Al-Shabaab would change much. In fact, the processes most likely to effectively combat the group are already in place: the group’s ringleader was killed last month in a drone strike, and the U.S. has gradually been making moves to renew ties with and aid Somalia for the first time in two decades. Ultimately, a stable and thriving Somalia poses a greater existential threat to Al-Shabaab than expanded military action ever could.