Two al-Shabab operatives were arrested over the past few months as they took flying lessons, one in the Philippines and one in an African country, according to American intelligence officials. These arrests indicate a troubling development that suggests the East African jihadist group may be planning to expand its operations to attack Americans outside of the Horn of Africa, warns counterterrorism officials, intelligence analysts, and US commandos quoted by The New York Times.
Apparently, al-Shabab fighters are attempting to acquire Chinese-made anti-aircraft weapons, which could pose a major risk to American helicopters and other aircraft in Somalia. In the attack on an American military base at Manda Bay in Kenya in January, six aircraft were destroyed.
Fears have also been expressed that al-Shabab militants could threaten international shipping in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait between Djibouti and Yemen, and the 3,500 American personnel stationed at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, the Pentagon’s largest military base in Africa.
Why It Matters
Somalia has remained largely underdeveloped due in part to ongoing terrorist attacks by al-Shabab, which seeks to impose an austere interpretation of Islamic sharia law on the country. These attacks ruin peoples’ livelihoods, injure or kill civilians in large numbers, and discourage investment in the country, as property and laborers cannot be guaranteed protection. Al-Shabab maintains healthy revenue streams through extortion and taxation of territory it commands, making it hard to dislodge the group entirely.
Should al-Shabab begin to threaten shipping routes, it could severely disrupt shipments of medical equipment or other goods needed to prop up ailing economies around the world suffering from the impacts of COVID-19. For the Somali people, an escalation of al-Shabab attacks could upset the efforts by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo to hold the country’s first democratic elections in decades.