Al-Shabaab (aka the Harakat Shabaab al-Mujahidin, al-Shabab, Shabaab, the Youth, Mujahidin al-Shabaab Movement, Mujahideen Youth Movement, Mujahidin Youth Movement), is an Islamic organization that controls much of southern Somalia, excluding the capital, Mogadishu. It has waged an insurgency against Somalia's transitional government and its Ethiopian supporters since 2006. Originally the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union, the group that controlled Somalia prior to the country's invasion by Ethiopian forces, Shabaab leaders have claimed affiliation with al-Qaeda since 2007. Though most analysts believe Shabaab's organizationallinks to al-Qaeda are weak, in February 2008 the United States added the group to its list of foreign terrorist organizations. Shabaab's strength has growth since then, but many experts say the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia in January 2009 could diminish the group's basis for popular support.
Leadership and Divisions
Shabaab is nominally led by Sheikh Mohamed Mukhtar Abdirahman "Abu Zubeyr," though experts say a core group of senior leaders guide its actions. The group is divided into three geographical units: Bay and Bokool regions, led by Mukhtar Roobow "Abu Mansur," the group's spokesman; south-central Somalia and Mogadishu; and Puntland and Somaliland. A fourth unit, which controls the Juba Valley, is led by Hassan Abdillahi Hersi "Turki," who is not considered to be a member of Shabaab, but is closely aligned with it. These regional units "appear to operate independently of one another, and there is often evidence of friction between them," says a December 2008 UN Monitoring Group report.
Estimates of Shabaab's size vary, but analysts generally agree that the group contains several thousand fighters, many of whom are from the Hawiye clan. The group has been able to expand its footprint in Somalia with relatively small numbers for two reasons: Somalia hasn't had a central government since 1991; and many...