At the turn of the century, more than a dozen Jihadi ideologues from almost all parts of Somalia had a series of secret meetings in Mogadishu to form a new Jihadi organisation. Frustrated by the leaders of Jihadi Salafism in Somalia, Al-I’tisam Bil Kitab Wal Sunnah (formerly Al-Ittihad), and their lack of influence in the organisation, these youth, some of whom had recently fought in Afghanistan, wanted a purely Jihadi group: Harakah Al-Shabab Al-Mujahideen was born.

From 2002, Al-Shabab had a lot of success in Mogadishu,killing aid workers, journalists, and transitional government officials. Using wealth accumulated from small businesses the group set up across the country – and also robbing businesses the group considered legitimate targets – it quickly amassed weapons and recruits, and was one of the most powerful factions that formed the Supreme Council of the Islamic Courts in 2006.

Having taken a blow from the initial battles with the Ethiopian army in 2006-7, Al-Shabab became one of the smaller factions fighting the insurgency from 2007-9. However, using clever media tactics, bullying, assassinations, and forced mergers, the group managed to become the only armed Jihadi group in Somalia by early 2011. By mid-2011, the group had been at the height of its power, governing more territory than any other Somali entity. The then-leader, Ahmed Godane, used his managerial experience to build a relatively effective government and military machinery.

Facing pressure from the Somali government and its allies, the group started going on a downward trajectory beginning with its loss of most parts of Mogadishu in August 2011. An internal rift that started around this time culminated in the mass purge of top and mid-level members in 2013. This only compounded its troubles, and the group went on a downward trajectory that saw it lose territory at a quickened pace until 2015 when the situation stabilised.

While the group is still on a downward trend, it has managed to keep the loss at a manageable rate, a situation favourable to the group’s long-term survivability. The Somali government’s own downward spiral has aided the group’s survivability…..[1441 words remaining].

Download the complete file here: Evolution of Al-Shabab

Existing Users Log In

This report was authored by Mohamed Mubarak. You can follow Mohamed on Twitter @somalianalyst and subscribe to his substack at

Share this: