Earlier today Shabaab, al Qaeda’s official branch in Somalia, launched a coordinated suicide assault against the national intelligence headquarters in a highly secured area in the capital of Mogadishu.
Seven Shabaab fighters, three soldiers, and two civilians were killed in the assault, which began when a truck detonated at the main gate of the headquarters, Reuters reported. Six heavily armed Shabaab fighters then entered the breach and battled with security forces inside the compound for nearly an hour before being killed.
The suicide assault, or coordinated attack using one or more suicide bombers and an assault team, is a tactic frequently used by al Qaeda and its branches as well as allied groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and by the rival Islamic State. Suicide assaults are commonly executed by jihadist groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Nigeria.
The Shabaab fighters were attempting to free prisoners held at the headquarters. Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, Shabaab’s military spokesman, told Reuters that the attack was launched “in retaliation and as just punishment for the apostate criminals” who hold the group’s fighters in prison. Abu Musab claimed that “innocent Muslims have suffered in the dungeons of that prison, subjected to torture and humiliation.”
Shabaab is following in the footsteps of jihadist groups such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Islamic State [in Iraq and Syria], two groups which have focused on military operations to free captive prisoners. Both groups have released thousands of prisoners during raids on jails. The resurgence of the Islamic State is partially due to the swelling of its ranks from prisoners freed in operations.
Shabaab’s assault in Mogadishu serves as a reminder that the group is far from defeated, despite claims to the contrary by some in the Somali government. While the current media focus is on the Islamic State’s spectacular gains in both Iraq and Syria, Shabaab and its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union, have controlled extensive areas of Somalia, including major cities, several times since 2006. Even today, Shabaab controls large portions of the countryside in southern and central Somalia, and still runs some towns and cities. An African Union offensive by forces from Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Kenya has managed to drive Shabaab from the major cities of Mogadishu and Kismayo, but three years after the start of the offensive, Shabaab still controls vast areas of Somalia.