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  • Al-Shabaab is an extremist organization seeking to establish an austere version of Islam in Somalia. The group also operates in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania; it pledged allegiance to al-Qa’ida in 2013, 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 who attempted 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 within Somalia, Uganda, and Kenya.
  • In Somalia, al-Shabaab primarily targets African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces, attacking hardened targets such as government bases or soft targets such as hotels with foreign diplomats and officials. Additionally, al-Shabaab targets neighboring Kenya for participating in AMISOM military operations. In April 2015, it directed an attack against a Kenyan university, killing 148.

Threat to New Jersey: Low

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Al-Shabaab has attempted to encourage 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 its operations in Africa.

  • In January 2015, al-Shabaab released a propaganda video calling for attacks against shopping malls in the United States and the United Kingdom and in January 2016, it released a video calling for attacks in the West in general. No such attacks have been inspired or attributed to these videos.
  • 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, Maalik Jones, a US citizen from Maryland, was indicted for providing material support and receiving training from al-Shabaab while he was in Somalia and Kenya. Jones traveled via commercial aircraft from New York to Kenya in 2011 and fought for the organization from 2011-15.
  • Between 2009-11, al-Shabaab was responsible for the most federally indicted persons in counterterrorism cases in the United States. The 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 was killed by al-Shabaab leadership in 2013 for publicly disagreeing with its decision to focus operations in Africa.

Intelligence Gaps

  • What level of support does al-Shabaab have in New Jersey?

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