The al-Shabab organization has clearly been evolving over the past months, perhaps leading to its spectacular attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, last week.
Analysts who study terrorist organizations and religious violence have been tracking the changing profile of al-Shabab. Ahmed Abdi Godane seems to have taken control of the al-Shabab in June 2013 in a move that has been described as a “coup” by some.
A number of leaders and long-time members of al-Shabab were ousted from the organization during the summer and had to flee for their lives. Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a spiritual leader of al-Shabab, fled and was arrested by government troops in Somalia. Abu Mansoor al-Amriki (the American) and another former al-Shabab leader were later killed by al-Shabab militants.
Bruce Hoffman, professor at Georgetown University and an expert on terrorism, was interviewed by NPR on the attack at Westgate Mall. Hoffman argues that al-Shabab has been “successful in staging an enormously bloody terrorist event … and it’s catapulted itself back into prominence as one of the major terrorist forces in the world today.”
The attack on the Westgate Mall may reflect tensions within the al-Shabab organization about the group’s religious and political mission.