Al-Shabab, terrorists behind Kenya mall attack, aims to extend its reach

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - Most Americans had heard little - or nothing - about al-Shabab, the Somali terror group that laid siege Saturday to an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, before this weekend.

Since 2006, al-Shabab has been trying to establish strict Islamic law inside Somalia, taking advantage of a dysfunctional government to set up safe havens for terror operations.

Using Internet videos with English-speaking operatives, the Somali terror group al-Shabab has drawn at least 40 U.S. radicals to Somalia.
Using Internet videos with English-speaking operatives, the Somali terror group al-Shabab has drawn at least 40 U.S. radicals to Somalia.

The group, affiliated with al Qaeda, has carried out a series of bombings in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. Two weeks ago, 15 people were killed when a car bomb and a suicide bomber attacked a restaurant.

Recently, al-Shabab has been under pressure from government forces and has abandoned some bases in southern Somalia.

But al-Shabab is fighting to re-establish its brand and extend its reach.

In 2010, al-Shabab militias went beyond Somalia's borders to carry out twin bombings in Uganda that killed 76 soccer fans gathered to watch the World Cup.

Now comes the attack in Kenya. Al-Shabab says it's in retaliation for Kenyan troops participating in the fight against al-Shabab in Somalia.

But the massacre is also a propaganda tool to convince extremists the group is still relevant.

Historically, al-Shabab has been al Qaeda's most effective recruiter of American jihadists.

An English-speaking operative of Somali terror group al-Shabab is seen in an Internet recruitment video.
An English-speaking operative of Somali terror group al-Shabab is seen in an Internet recruitment video.

Using Internet videos with English-speaking operatives, the terror group has drawn at least 40 U.S. radicals to Somalia.

"You are the one in need, you know?" one operative said in a video. "You are the one in need, and we are all in need of Allah."

Intelligence sources say at least 15 of the American recruits have already died in various terror operations, including suicide bombings.

The Americans are also caught in a power struggle inside al-Shabab. One of the leading propagandists, Alabama-born Omar Hammami, publicly broke with the group. Sources say he was killed two weeks ago by al-Shabab snipers.

Sources tell us the flow of Americans to Somalia has greatly slowed, but it has not stopped.

  • Bob Orr

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