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Al-Shabab Seemingly Shifts Strategy as Fighters Dwindle

A Somali soldier observes the scene of a car bomb attack by al-Shabab in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, June 21, 2015.
A Somali soldier observes the scene of a car bomb attack by al-Shabab in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, June 21, 2015.

As it loses ground in Somalia, militant group al-Shabab increasingly has turned to attacks needing just a few fighters to make an impact. The biggest of these — such as the assault on Garissa University in northeastern Kenya in April — have left dozens of people dead. The group now is calling on Muslim youth in East Africa to take up this strategy.

In a 21-minute video sermon, a man in a black uniform surrounded by about 50 Swahili-speaking fighters acknowledges the dwindling number of fighters within al-Shabab.

But the man in the video, Ahmed Iman Ali, a Kenyan al-Shabab leader, had a message.

“How many times have we heard of operations carried out by three or four brothers in Mogadishu that have defeated troops from different countries that are also receiving assistance from Western nations? A few boys, four, six, can go in. They are able to take up a camp,” he said.

It's not clear if he is referring to a specific attack.

In June, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for an attack on a military compound in Mogadishu where Somali intelligence officials train.

Militants also attacked a camp for Burundian AU troops in southern Somalia, killing 30 soldiers.

Disillusioned youth

Independent analyst Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad said this new video appears aimed at disillusioned youth.

“The guy is boosting the morale of the fighters. In fact, he admitted they lost ground, [that] they have lost some of their fighters in operations. He is building the morale of the fighters by telling them be patient, victory is near, we will overcome all these problems sooner than later,” said Abdisamad.

Head of the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, Jasmine Opperman, disagreed.

“What we are seeing is al-Shabab in a stronger position as previously. If one looks at the video and the person talking, we see a person relaxed. We see fighters in a good spirit. We see a message of patience being conveyed. As if al-Shabab is in full control, knows what is doing and is under no threat,” she said.

Kenyan security forces recently launched an offensive to clear al-Shabab from Kenya's Boni forest, which stretches into Somalia.

The Kenyan al-Shabab commander said they are prepared for a long battle.

“They know we are inside Kenya, they know the forest we are in. Let them come in with their weapons in the forest. Whoever comes out alive is the victor. That’s the challenge I am giving them,” he said.

The al-Qaida-linked militant group is fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu. The government is protected by a force of 22,000 troops from Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda and Djibouti.