Al-Shabaab is an extremist organization based in Somalia seeking to establish an austere version of Islam. The group operates in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. The organization pledged allegiance to al-Qa’ida in 2008, and Ahmad Umar has led the group since 2014 after the death of Ahmed Abdi Godane from a US airstrike.
In Somalia, al-Shabaab primarily targets African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces, attacking government bases and soft targets such as hotels and restaurants that foreign diplomats and officials frequent.
Prior to 2018, al-Shabaab’s most notable coordinated attacks included 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’s threat to New Jersey is low, as the group lacks the capability to direct attacks against the United States and continues to focus operations in Africa.
In 2010, federal authorities arrested New Jersey residents Mohamed Alessa and Carlos Almonte at John F. Kennedy International 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.
In 2018, al-Shabaab remained active in Somalia as it sought to maintain a foothold in other neighboring countries, such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.
Al-Shabaab continues to target government officials, the military, police, journalists, and foreign aid workers in Somalia and Kenya. As a result, the United States conducted 31 airstrikes in 2017 and 47 in 2018.
On January 15, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a coordinated attack on a hotel and nearby office building in Nairobi, Kenya, killing 21 and injuring 28. Jason Spindler, a US citizen and executive from San Francisco, was killed in the attack.
Following the attack, the group released a statement that the attack was in accordance with the directive of al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to target Western and Zionist interests and in response to President Donald Trump’s announcement of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In early 2018, the United States began a series of airstrikes that killed over 300 al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia. The strikes were in coordination with the Somali government and are expected to continue throughout 2019.