According to British Security, Samantha Lewthwaite , the widow of one of the suicide bombers who killed more than 50 people in an attack on the London subway system in 2005 may have been involved in the deadly terror attack at a mall in Kenya. The source said there is no “definitive or conclusive” evidence that, dubbed the “white widow” of Germaine Lindsay by British media, was involved in the mall siege, but “it is a possibility.” According to Reuters, Lewthwaite is thought to have left the U.K. several years ago and is wanted in connection with an alleged plot to attack Kenyan restaurants and hotels. Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed told PBS’ “Newshour” that “two or three Americans'” and a British woman were among the militants. Al-Shabaab, the Al-Qaeda linked terror group that claimed responsibility for the mall attack, said Tuesday its militants were still holed up and there were “countless dead bodies.” The group has rejected suggestions that foreigners were involved in the attack.
What does the Al-Shabaab mean and what does this terrorist out-fit stand for?
Before 1991, Somalia, one of the poorest nations of Africa, was under the dictatorship of Maj Muhammad Siyad Barre. In 1969, Somalian President Abd-i-rashid Ali Shermarke was assassinated, and a few days later Siyad Barre aka General Barre seized power in a military coup. Barre’s government developed strong ties with the USSR and other Soviet-bloc nations during the 1970s but in 1978 lost Soviet support when it invaded Ethiopia to regain pre-colonial Somali territory. The attack was repelled within a year, but protracted guerrilla warfare continued into the 1980s, bolstered by U.S. support for the Somalis. Several hundred thousand refugees fled to Somalia to escape the conflict, and by the late 1980s economic depression contributed to the outbreak of civil war in Somalia. In early 1991, rebels ousted Barre after intense and bloody fighting, and Ali Mahdi Muhammad of the United Somali Congress took control of Mogadishu and the rest of southern Somalia.
After the Somali warlords ousted a longtime dictator in 1991, anarchy prevailed in the country and out of that crippling anarchy, in 2006, a new extremist terrorist force took birth. Its name was Al-Shabaab. It means “The Youth” in Arabic. It was a splinter youth wing of a weak Islamic Courts Union government created in 2006 to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the East African nation. Al-Shabaab is estimated to have several thousand fighters, including a few hundred foreign fighters. Some of the insurgents’ foreign fighters are from the Middle East with experience in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Others are young, raw recruits from Somali communities in the United States and Europe. U.S. officials have expressed fears that militants fleeing Afghanistan and Pakistan could seek refuge in Somalia. It controls today almost all of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. It had held large swathes of central and southern Somalia until a United Nations-backed force from the African Union, including soldiers from neighboring Kenya and Uganda, pushed the militants out of the city in 2011 and out of the vital port of Kismayo in 2012. The rebels still control many rural areas in Somalia where it imposes strict Shariah law, including stoning to death women accused of adultery and amputating the hands of accused thieves. In addition it has staged deadly suicide bomb attacks on Mogadishu and Kismayo. Al-Shabab is believed to command thousands of fighters including hundreds of foreigners.
Why did they attack Kenya?
In 2011, Kenya had played a leading role in reducing the Al-Shabaab’s power in Somalia. It would be important to remember that Al-Shabaab had warned for two years that it will attack Kenya in retaliation for the country’s leading role in sending troops to Somalia. Al-Shabab had also claimed responsibility for the July 2010 suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, that killed more than 70 people watching a World Cup final soccer match at two different restaurants popular among foreigners. Ugandan troops also are fighting in the African force in Somalia.
On February 2012, Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda had announced their alliance under the leadership of Mukhtar Abu Zubair pledging allegiance to the global terror movement of Al-Qaeda.
Before Al-Shabaab lost control over main cities, it was making a steady income from duties and fees levied at ports and airports. It was also extorting taxes on domestic produce and demanding “jihadi” contributions. A United Nations report estimated Al-Shabab’s income in 2011 at between $70 million and $100 million. It has lost most of that revenue since it was forced out of Mogadishu and Kismayo. Al-Shabaab’s only known ally in Africa is Eritrea. Eritrea denies charges that it helps arm Al-Shabaab.
It is believed that recently Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda have fractured over its alliance. It caused a rift that has grown between core Shabaab fighters who believe their struggle should focus on Somalia, and growing tensions with foreign fighters who want to plot a regional terrorist strategy. Analysts think attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall could indicate the extremists are winning that internal struggle. Further divisions are believed to have been caused by the group’s decision to ban foreign aid organizations from operating in the country and providing food to save millions of victims of conflict-induced famine. That decision was announced in 2011, when the U.N. said Somalia had the world’s highest child mortality rate.
Irrespective of its relationship with Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab is inspired by the Saudi Arabian Wahabi version of Islam propagated by Al-Sauds. The ground reality of the country is that most Somalis, like Indian Muslims, belong to the more moderate Sufi strain. While Al Shabaab initially won popularity with Somalis by promising security and stability after years of lawlessness and violence, Al-Shabaab’s destruction of Sufi shrines has cost them much support among locals.
So, again, it is a war of ideologies, economies, egos and power; all in the name of Islam.