• Al-Shabaab is an extremist organization seeking to establish an austere version of Islam in Somalia. The group operates in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania; it initially pledged allegiance to al-Qa’ida in 2008, and the current leader is Ahmad Umar.
  • In May 2015, the Islamic State of  Iraq and Syria (ISIS) made an appeal for al-Shabaab to abandon al-Qa’ida. In an effort to limit support for ISIS within al-Shabaab’s ranks, Umar called for the capture, torture, and killing of any member attempting to defect to ISIS. Since that time, some members have left to join a newly formed organization, Jabha East Africa, which has allied with ISIS and operates in Somalia, Uganda, and Kenya.
  • In Somalia, al-Shabaab primarily targets African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces, attacking targets such as government bases, as well as soft targets such as hotels and restaurants frequented by foreign diplomats and officials. In January 2016, al-Shabaab carried out a coordinated attack against an AMISOM base in El-Ade, in southwestern Somalia, killing about 150 Kenyan troops, according to the UN.
  • In neighboring Kenya, Al-Shabaab has been successful in recruiting from the Somali refugee camp in Dadaab and others who feel oppressed under Kenyan Defense Forces. Since 2013, al-Shabaab has been responsible for the deaths of about 400 Kenyans. The most notable attacks include the Westgate Mall siege that killed 67 in 2013 and the Garissa University attack in 2015, which killed 148.

Threat to New Jersey: Low

Al-Shabaab has encouraged homegrown violent extremists to execute attacks in the United States, with little success. The group lacks the capability to direct attacks against the United States and continues to focus operations on Africa.

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  • In March 2016, US military forces carried out an airstrike that killed approximately 150 members of al-Shabaab at a training camp 120 miles north of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital—a blow to al-Shabaab’s recruitment efforts.
  • In February 2016, al-Shabaab claimed an attack against a departing Daallo Airlines flight. The attack targeted Western intelligence officials and Turkish NATO forces, but it was unsuccessful in injuring anyone except the attacker, who had concealed a bomb inside a laptop.

  • In 2010, federal authorities arrested New Jersey residents Mohamed Alessa and Carlos Almonte at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York for attempting to travel to Somalia in support of al-Shabaab. Both men received sentences of over 20 years in prison.

US Nexus

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  • In January 2016, Maalik Jones, a US citizen from Maryland, was indicted for providing material support and receiving training from al-Shabaab while in Somalia and Kenya. Jones traveled via commercial aircraft from New York to Kenya in 2011 and fought for the organization in 2011-15.
  • Between 2009-11, al-Shabaab was responsible for the most federally indicted persons in counterterrorism cases in the United States. A majority of these cases occurred in Minneapolis, which is home to a large Somali diaspora. In 2007-11, at least 27 known males left Minneapolis to join al-Shabaab.

  • In 2006, Omar Hammami, a US citizen from Alabama, traveled to Somalia to become a commander, propagandist, and recruiter for the group. In 2012, he was added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list but al-Shabaab killed him in 2013 for publicly disagreeing with the leadership over the strategic direction of the group.

Additional Resources

Hotel Security: Lessons From Terrorist Attacks in Africa

School Security: Lessons from a Kenyan University Attack

Al-Qa’ida: Influence Over Global Nodes Waning

For more information, please contact NJOHSP's Analysis Bureau at or 609-584-4000.