Al-Shabaab

Background

  • 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.

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  • 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.

US Nexus

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  • 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.


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