Al Shabab Spreads Its Influence

July 13, 2010

The militant group known as al Shabab has claimed responsibility for the two bombings that erupted in Uganda this past Sunday.

The bombings killed more than 70 people who were watching the World Cup final.

Al Shabab is based in Somalia, and it is believed that the group has links to al Qaeda. The attacks on Sunday mark the first time that al Shabab has struck outside Somalian borders.

Al Shabab likely struck in Uganda because of the country’s leadership in the African peace keeping mission in Somalia. The Ugandans have around 3,200 troops in Somalia, and it is this contigent of soldiers that has made up the primary obstacle to al Shabab taking over the Ugandan government.

The bombings on Sunday consisted of two simultaneous attacks which is traditionally a hallmark of al Qaeda. The bombings appear to have been the work of suicide bombers, and seem to have been organized at the last minute.

There is a substantial Somali community in Uganda, and al Qaeda has frequently passed through Ugandan borders; therefore, Sunday’s bombings didn’t come as a complete surprise to security experts.

Like all suicide bombings associated with al Qaeda, the bombings in Uganda were designed to sow fear and induce economic damage.

In recent years, al Qaeda and its affiliates have gone from using large 9/11 type attacks to using smaller scale bombings. This has caused academics and security officials to question whether this change has been a conscious decision, or is the result of al Qaeda’s incapability to realize an attack on a grand scale like it once did.

The linakges are very tight between al Qaeda and its Islamist affiliates operating in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. All of these groups are Sunni, and they have ideological origins in Pakistan. They come out of the Deobandi tradition, and have gained power with the support of many in the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The ties between al Shabab and al Qaeda raises the question of where the terrorist problem really resides. Al Shabab undoubtedly picked Uganda as a target for reasons personal to the group; however, al Shabab could not have achieved Sunday’s bombings without benefitting from al Qaeda’s terrorist network and training. Therefore, al Qaeda is the primary threat to security in this case, and al Shabab’s attack in Uganda is merely a symptom of a much larger problem.

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