As I’ve written earlier, al-Shabaab is competing for the title of “Terror Group of the Month” with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Thanks to America’s collective, short-term memory loss, the Underwear Bomber and printer bomb plot have been all but forgotten. Al-Shabaab is the young, rising star. Pushing it to further prominence was a congressional report released today that claimed that 40 Muslim Americans have joined the fight in Somalia, 15 of which have been killed:
A report by his [Rep. Peter King] staff found that more than 40 Muslim Americans and 20 Canadians have been recruited to al Shabaab and at least 15 Americans were killed in fighting, including three suicide bombers.
“Senior U.S. counterterror officials have told the committee they are very concerned about individuals they have not identified who have fallen in with al-Shabaab during trips to Somalia, who could return to the U.S. undetected,” King said during a hearing he convened on al Shabaab.
Of the more than 40 Americans who have joined the cause, as many as 21 are believed to still be at large and unaccounted for, according to the staff report.
While the merits of this report and its accuracy can be debated, and will be with further information, what cannot be debated is al-Shabaab’s rise to notoriety. Whether it be earning the title of radicalizing America’s first ever suicide bomber or banning aid agencies from helping victims of the Horn of Africa’s record drought, the radical Islamist group is slowly earning its boogeyman status.
The recent drone strikes and the discovery of yet another secret, American prison in Mogadishu suggests that American security officials deem al-Shabaab to be a serious threat and Somalia to be a hotbed for terrorism. Perhaps they are also trying to figure out how al-Shabaab, much less glorious than its counterpart, al-Qaeda, has been so successful at recruiting American citizens. Although their motives have not been made explicitly clear, the recent surge in American activity in the stateless country is troubling.
Then again, Somalia would be an extremely valuable asset for the United States. The lack of any effective, central government would give American officials and proxies operating there even more impunity than they experience throughout the world. Additionally, its location, a stones throw away from the Arabian peninsula and in the backyard of Mogadishu, would allow for yet another point to monitor terrorism in East Africa and the Middle East.
Just as a reminder, al-Shabaab has only once attacked outside of Somalia.
The target: Uganda. The justification: foreign intervention.