Al-Shebab: In the name of obscurantism

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Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the 11/7 twin bombings in Kampala, Uganda which caused the death of 73 people and wounded 85 more. The extremist group has installed its own brutal version of the Islamic Sharia law, which includes a ban on women wearing bras and the killing of unfortunate women or children who fall victim to rape. Close-up on this Somali Islamist group that controls over 80% of the Horn of Africa country.

The attack on two restaurants showing the football World Cup final followed the militant extremist group’s declaration of war on Uganda and Burundi in light of the two Eastern African countries’ military engagement in Somalia.

“We are behind this recent attack because we are at war with them (Uganda),” said Ali Mohamud Rage, one of al-Shabab’s spokesmen, on Monday. The toll stands at 73 dead and 85 wounded after the two bomb attacks carried out on Sunday in Kampala, the capital of Uganda during the final of the World Cup.

Investigations carried out by Ugandan police with the assistance of three FBI investigators, have determined that the explosion at the ‘Ethiopian Village’ restaurant was caused by a suicide bomber. For now, the cause of the explosion in the second establishment remains unclear. However, the discovery, a day after the bombings, of an vest laced with explosives and left unexploded in a Kampala nightclub points to the suicide attack theory.

The Somali Islamist group, drawn mostly from the extremist faction of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), did not pick Kampala at random. A source of half the troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) with 3000 men, and organizer of the next African Union summit, Uganda had received threats on July 5th following an announcement deploying additional troops to Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

In control of several regions in the South and in Central Somalia, as well as many parts of the capital, Mogadishu, al-Shabab’s attack targeted an Ethiopian restaurant (an enemy nation) that was showing a football match (an anti-Islamic activity proscribed by their version of the Sharia).

Founded in 2004 by Aden Hashi Farah, this Somali jihadist group is drawn mainly from the most radical faction in the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) which was initially created to put an end to widespread violence by implementing Sharia law. Removed from power by the Ethiopian army in 2006, the ICU chiefs took flight, leaving their members to join the ranks of al-Shabab. Somalia has been plagued by armed conflict since the collapse of its last functioning government in 1991.

In 2009, the armed militant group declared war on the government of Sharif Sheik Ahmed, a moderate former member of the ICU faced with the task of bringing peace after ten years of civil war. Led by Mukhtar Al-Zubayr, a Somaliland religious leader, al-Shabab maintain close ties with Al-Qaeda.

Several men at the heart of the movement trained in Afghanistan, explains Roland Marchal, researcher at the French national research institute (CNRS) and a specialist on Somalia. Placed on the official US list of terrorist organizations in 2004, this Islamist group is suspected of serving the interests of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan. In March 2009, Osama bin Laden, in a recorded message, called for President Sharif Sheik Ahmed to be overthrown and resisted.

This ultra-radical militant group, with its literal interpretation of Sharia, recently reconciled with Hizbul Islam, an Islamist organization led by the former ICU leader, Hassan Dahir Aweys. Both organizations had a falling out, a result of the existence of different clans.

However, they have come together against a common enemy—the transition government which does not really control the country anyway. Al-Shabab controls around 80% of Somalia. Not that well known, this armed group, which spreads terror with its expedited trials and public amputations, is capable of mobilizing over 7000 men.

In April this year, Harsh War, Harsh Peace, a Human Rights Watch report based on over 70 interviews with victims and witnesses described some of the harsh punishments including amputations and floggings, meted out to Somali people in al-Shabab controlled areas. Those mostly falsely accused of being traitors or government sympathizers face execution or assassination. Some are threatened with death simply because they live in government-controlled areas of Mogadishu.


“My husband was then asked, ‘Are you going to take the 10 lashes normally prescribed for women who are supposed to wear the abaya?’ He refused, and they said, ‘Okay, then your wife will take it.’ A young man gave me 10 lashes with the whip. He beat me so much that I felt heat and pain throughout my body. He was raising his hand back and counting, ‘One, two, three, four, five …. ‘ It felt so painful that if I had a gun I would have killed that man.”

Woman from Mogadishu who had been chasing after her toddler who had wandered from her house to the street, and was arrested by al-Shabaab fighters for failing to don her abaya.

“If they find you without [an abaya], they will beat and flog you. This happened to me two months ago. I was standing in front of my compound. When I saw them with whips and guns, I rushed back inside. But a man chased me and whipped me three times. He used a stick from a marer [a berry tree]. He said, ‘Why are you not wearing a hijab?’ I said, ‘I cannot afford it.’ He said, ‘That is not possible; get into your house.’ So you either have to have it or stay in your house, hungry.”

Woman from a farm near the town of Jilib, north of Kismayo.

“One day when I came home from duksi [Quranic school] I found our house had been hit by a [mortar shell]. The house was pulverized. My mother and father were killed. I think my four brothers were killed as well. I saw pieces of their hands and legs near the part of the house that we used for resting. I am in such shock, I barely know who I am.”

14-year-old boy whose family in Mogadishu was wiped out by a mortar strike in September 2009.

“They [al-Shabaab] use mortars. They sit at a specific place and launch one, five, or even ten mortar rounds. Then they pack and go immediately. We have no way to complain to them [and tell them to stop]. Even if you look at them, you can be killed. Now a counterattack comes, without discrimination. One day some of my relatives were buried in their house after a mortar hit a nearby house, three people died there. My house was blocked by the rubble of that house. We had to dig them out.”

Former resident of an opposition-controlled neighborhood of Mogadishu.

Sharia according to al-Shabab

Sharia, or “the way” in Arabic, is supposed to guide Muslims on the right path to obeying God’s law both in public and in their private life. Al-Shabab apply their own literal interpretation of the Quran. Their extremism in this interpretation translates into radical measures that are then imposed on the population.

For example, it is forbidden for a woman to wear a bra; the penalty for this act is a public flogging. Considered anti-Islamic, impure and offensive, this undergarment “aids deception on the natural state of the breasts, emphasizes the feminine figure and rouses sexual desire,” according to one of the heads of the fundamentalist movement.

Men are not completely off the hook either. They are obliged, for their part, to wear a beard but to shave their mustache to set them apart from polytheists.

Even more absurd is that playing of music is forbidden over the radio, and mobile ringtones are not allowed either.—Football is simply a series of arm and leg movements… and dancing is a sin.

In October of 2008, a 13 year old girl was stoned to death in a stadium by 50 men in the presence of 1000 onlookers—her crime? She had been raped.

If rape is not recognized by the law, theft is severely punished. September 2009, two young men had their right arms cut off as stipulated under Quranic law. All these punishments are carried out publicly and are useful in terrorizing the population.

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