The rise and fall of al-Shabab


Minneapolis played a role in the decline of an international terrorist group.

By: Nasser Mussa

From remote villages in Somalia to the U.S. Federal Court in Minneapolis, al-Shabab has garnered attention throughout the world as a terrorist group from the Horn of Africa.

Al-Shabab seized power in the summer of 2006 after driving warlords out of Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia, which has remained a warzone despite efforts to form a stable government.

Following its victory, the group organized itself as an Islamist government following strict Sharia law. Within a few months, al-Shabab mobilized a considerable number of fighters, including American citizens who travelled to Somalia and joined the group to fight.

As al-Shabab fighters advanced in Somalia, the U.S. government was concerned that Somalia would become a haven for terrorist groups and began aiding the Ethiopian government via financial support and military training. In winter 2006, the Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia with U.S. support.

However, this effort failed due to historical animosities between Somalia and Ethiopia. The Ethiopian invasion became a showdown for al-Shabab, which gave the group popular support among Somali populations to fight against Ethiopian troops. I remember Somalis protesting in Minneapolis calling on Ethiopian troops to withdraw from Somalia. It was during this time that Americans began traveling to Somalia to join al-Shabab in 2007.

Following these departures Minneapolis was the site of an FBI investigation. According to the U.S. Justice Department, “federal agents have been conducting a long-running, international investigation into a pipeline that supplies men from Minneapolis to Somalia.” The federal government indicted several individuals and convicted Mahamud Said Omar in the first case related to al-Shabab. Recently, the group was widely driven out of its Somali strongholds. Though the group continues to train new members in south Somalia, al-Shabab fortunately appears to be on a decline of public support and under intense pressure from the U.S. and African governments.