Tuesday, February 2, 2010
The BBC Focus on Africa program asked me to comment yesterday on the announcement by the Somali extremist organization, al-Shabaab, that it must join officially with al Qaeda to confront "international crusaders and their aggression against Muslim people." I responded that al-Shabaab has claimed to have a link with al Qaeda for more than a year. This announcement is an effort to formalize something that already existed in principle. It remains to be seen if this will result in more support, for example more foreign fighters, and direction from al Qaeda. There might be a situation where al-Shabaab begins to look like a group primarily active in Algeria known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The al-Shabaab announcement could even result eventually in a name change to something like al Qaeda in Somalia. The announcement probably does not portend any significant change of activity in Somalia, where al-Shabaab strongly opposes the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the African Union troops in Mogadishu from Uganda and Burundi that support the TFG. On the other hand, it may have an impact on countries in the region. Al-Shabaab might try to carry out attacks in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia and against Uganda and Burundi, which provides troops for the African Union in Mogadishu. Once al-Shabaab establishes a formal link with al Qaeda, there almost certainly will be a greater effort by the West in general and the United States in particular to counter al-Shabaab. African countries in the region may also step up their activity against al-Shabaab.