Expelled from a string of strategic towns, cut off from revenue sources and struggling for its survival, Somalia’s Islamist militant group al Shabaab is steeling for an anticipated assault on its last bastion by Western-backed African forces.
Here is a look at the al Shabaab group.
* AL SHABAAB WAGING WAR IN SOMALIA:
– Al Shabaab, which means “Youth” or “Boys” in Arabic, seized control of large areas of south and central Somalia. The Horn of Africa nation has been mired in anarchy since warlords toppled military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Reuters reports.
– The interim government’s attempts to restore control have been paralysed by infighting and the Islamist-led insurgency. The chaos has helped fuel kidnappings and piracy.
– Al Shabaab’s hardline militia was part of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union movement that pushed U.S.-backed warlords out of Mogadishu in June 2006 and ruled for six months before Somali and Ethiopian forces ousted them.
– Five years on in August 2011, al Shabaab insurgents began pulling their fighters out of the capital, Mogadishu, raising hopes that humanitarian groups would be able to increase aid.
– Rejecting Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s claim to have quashed the insurgency, the militants said the retreat was tactical, and in October 2011 they struck the capital with their deadliest attack since their insurgency started in 2007. A truck laden with drums of fuel rammed a checkpoint outside government ministries in Mogadishu, killing more than 70 people.
– The rebels’ retreat from Mogadishu did, however, signal that they could not militarily defeat a government propped up by foreign firepower. The group has been weakened as Ethiopian and Kenyan troops advanced on rebel strongholds in southern Somalia, seizing back in February the central city of Baidoa, the former seat of the Somali parliament, as well as several other strategic towns.
– Al Qaeda announced last February that al Shabaab had joined its ranks in an apparent effort to boost morale diminished by many setbacks including the loss of founder Osama bin Laden.
– Recently the group has resorted to guerrilla-style tactics against AMISOM troops. However there has also been some success in fighting them, with AU-backed Somali soldiers securing a route linking Afgoye, 29 km northwest of Mogadishu, with the capital at the end of May 2012.
— Kenyan and Somali government troops captured the stronghold of Afmadow on May 31. Afmadow was seen as crucial to an advance on the rebels’ main bastion, the southern port city of Kismayu which Kenya plans to capture by August.
* AL SHABAAB THREATS AND MAJOR ATTACKS:
– A suicide bombing in June 2009 killed Somalia’s security minister and at least 30 other people in a hotel in Beledweyne.
– A suicide bomber killed four government ministers and 19 others after an attack on Dec. 3, 2009, on a graduation ceremony at Mogadishu’s Shamo Hotel.
– In July 2010, al Shabaab staged a bomb attack in Kampala that killed 79 people who were watching the soccer World Cup final. The strike, its first on foreign soil, was to avenge Uganda’s participation in the AU peacekeeping force.
– Al Shabaab rebels said they killed Somali Interior Minister Abdi Shakur Sheikh Hassan on June 10, 2011.
– Two attacks on a Nairobi bus station and a bar killed one person and wounded more than 20 in late October 2011. Earlier that month, Kenya sent the military into Somalia to crush the militants that Nairobi blamed for several attacks on Kenyan soil. Al Shabaab threatened reprisals if the troops did not go.
– Kenyan police blamed al Shabaab rebels for grenade attacks that killed at least six people at the Machakos bus station in Nairobi on March 10, 2012.
– The head of Somalia’s soccer federation and Olympic committee were among at least six killed in April when an al Shabaab suicide bomber struck Mogadishu’s newly-reopened national theatre. Days later at least 12 people were killed in a bomb attack in Baidoa targeting Somali and Ethiopian troops.
– In a brazen attack the rebels struck at a convoy carrying President Ahmed outside the town of Elasha underscoring the ease which they can still strike. The president escaped unharmed.