With brazen terrorist attacks at home and abroad, the Somalia-based Islamist insurgent group has proved resilient despite strategic setbacks in recent years.
A coalition of eleven sharia courts form the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and name Sharif Sheikh Ahmed its leader.
Somalia’s internationally backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG), comprising representatives of the country’s largest clans, is formed in exile in Nairobi. Abdullahi Yusuf is elected president of the interim body.
Backed by al-Shabaab militants, the ICU wrests control of Mogadishu after clashing with a coalition of warlords.
Ethiopia, a majority-Christian nation, invades and takes Mogadishu with little ICU opposition.
Galvanized by the invasion, al-Shabaab transforms into the most powerful Somali guerrilla group, well funded and thousands strong.
The TFG moves into the capital from its interim headquarters in the western city of Baidoa.
The United Nations approves a regional peacekeeping force known by its acronym, AMISOM, to support the TFG in its battle against al-Shabaab.
The U.S. State Department designates al-Shabaab a foreign terrorist organization, blocking anyone in the United States from providing financial support to the group.
Ethiopian troops withdraw from Somalia after a series of setbacks and are replaced by AMISOM forces. The country redeploys troops to Somalia in 2014, when it becomes a contributor to the regional force.
Al-Shabaab, in its first foreign terrorist attack, carries out multiple suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, killing seventy-four people.
AMISOM and TFG forces push al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu and other major urban centers after a yearlong offensive.
Kenya invades southern Somalia in Operation Linda Nchi following kidnappings claimed by the militant group. The country’s forces are integrated into AMISOM in February 2012.
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri announces al-Shabaab’s affiliation with the jihadi network.
Backed by local Somali forces, Kenyan troops sweep into Kismayo, ousting al-Shabaab from its last major stronghold and cutting off a major source of the militant group’s funding.
The United States recognizes the government of Somalia after a hiatus of more than twenty years. “There is still a long way to go and many challenges to confront, but we have seen a new foundation for that better future being laid,” says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In a multiday raid on a Nairobi mall, al-Shabaab militants kill sixty-seven people. It is the deadliest terrorist attack in Kenya in fifteen years.
The U.S. military sends a small team of advisors to Mogadishu to assist AMISOM forces. It is the first U.S. deployment since eighteen soldiers were killed in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu.
Ahmed Diriye, also known as Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah, becomes al-Shabaab’s leader after Ahmed Abdi Godane, one of the group’s founders, is killed in a U.S. air strike.
Somali and AMISOM troops retake the southern coastal city of Barawe nearly six years after al-Shabaab gained control of the area.
Al-Shabaab militants in central Kenya kill 148 people at Garissa University College. The fifteen-hour siege, in which gunmen hold more than seven hundred students hostage, overtakes the 2013 mall raid as the group’s deadliest attack in the country.
Former Prime Minister Mohamed Farmaajo wins the presidency in Somalia. The government hails the election as the final step in its decades-long path toward effective central governance, but international observers criticize the election as corrupt.
In Somalia’s deadliest terrorist attack, truck bombings in the capital city kill more than five hundred people and injure three hundred others. Al-Shabaab is widely believed to be behind the attack, though it does not claim responsibility. Two weeks later, Shabaab militants kill at least twenty-nine people during a siege on a hotel in Mogadishu; the dead include senior government and police officials.
More than one hundred people suspected of being militants affiliated with al-Shabaab are killed in a single U.S. air strike northwest of Mogadishu, according to the Pentagon. The strike is one of more than 275 in Somalia authorized by the Trump administration.
The UN Security Council approves the withdrawal of a thousand AMISOM troops by the end of 2017, the first time it cuts troop numbers in Somalia, as part of a transition of security responsibilities to the Somali government. Less than a year later, it votes to delay further reductions until 2019.
Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for a deadly siege at a Nairobi luxury hotel complex. At least fourteen people are killed and hundreds of civilians trapped during the hours-long standoff between gunmen and security forces.
After a twenty-eight-year gap, Washington reopens its embassy in Mogadishu. That same day, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announces nearly $260 million in new humanitarian assistance for the country.
Al-Shabaab claims it was behind several attacks in the Somali capital and northern Kenya around the start of the new year. The first, a suicide truck bombing in Mogadishu, kills 82 people and injures close to 150 others. Soon after, the group attacks a Kenyan military base that houses U.S. troops, killing three U.S. personnel; and a car bombing near the Somali parliament building kills four people.
The COVID-19 pandemic and disagreements among political leaders cause repeated delays to Somalia’s parliamentary and indirect presidential elections, leaving President Farmaajo in power despite his term expiring in February 2021. The crisis lasts for more than a year and sets back counterinsurgency efforts. On May 15, 2022, former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is declared winner after three rounds of voting by legislators, and he assumes office a week later.
The African Union, UN Security Council, and Somali government replace AMISOM with a transition mission known as ATMIS that is set to hand over security responsibilities to Somali forces at the end of 2024. The move comes after years of postponing the drawdown, though ATMIS’s mandate is largely the same as AMISOM’s.
Hundreds of al-Shabaab fighters cross the border into eastern Ethiopia while the country is embroiled in a civil conflict. Ethiopian forces eventually push back the militants and claim to kill hundreds within the group’s ranks, while al-Shabaab says it killed several dozen Ethiopian soldiers. It is considered al-Shabaab’s biggest operation inside Ethiopia, and despite retreating, it remains active in the border region.
Double car bombings outside the education ministry in Mogadishu kill at least 120 people and injure 300 others. Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for the attack, which comes amid a major counterinsurgency campaign by the new Somali government.