Al-Shabab
2004 – 2020
Al-Shabab

With brazen terrorist attacks at home and abroad, the Somalia-based Islamist insurgent group has proved resilient despite strategic setbacks in recent years.

2004
June 2004
Islamic Courts Union Emerges
A Somalia Islamic Courts Union's security agent patrols the streets of Bermuda village in Wagberi district, central Mogadishu
ICU security forces patrol the streets of Mogadishu. Shabelle Media/Reuters

A coalition of eleven sharia courts form the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), naming Sharif Sheikh Ahmed its leader.

2004
2004
October 2004
Transitional Federal Government Formed
New elected Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf looks on as the Somali flag is hoisted during a swearing in ceremony in Nairobi, as a military officer salutes.
President Abdullahi Yusuf after a swearing-in ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya. Radu Sigheti/Reuters

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.

2004
2006
June 2006
Mogadishu Falls
Members of a Somali Islamic Court militia cradle their weapons and raise their fists to celebrate.
Al-Shabab fighters seize the capital. Shabelle Media/Reuters

Backed by al-Shabab militants, the ICU wrests control of Mogadishu after clashing with a coalition of warlords.

2006
2006
December 6, 2006
Ethiopia Invades
Ethiopian troops ride on a military truck in Somali's capital Mogadishu.
Ethiopian troops ride on a military truck in Mogadishu. Sahal Abdulle/Reuters

Ethiopia, a majority-Christian nation, invades and takes Mogadishu with little ICU opposition.

2006
2007
A Turning Point for al-Shabab
Militants of al Shabaab display weapons in front of people on a street in the outskirts of Mogadishu
Al-Shabab militants display weapons on the outskirts of Mogadishu. Mowlid Abdi/Reuters

Galvanized by the invasion, al-Shabab transforms into the most powerful Somali guerrilla group, well funded and thousands strong.

2007
2007
January 7, 2007
Transitional Government Enters Mogadishu
Somalian forces loyal to the TFG (Transition Federal Government) patrol the streets in Mogadishu
Somali forces loyal to the Transition Federal Government (TFG) patrol the streets in Mogadishu. Peter Delarue/AFP/Getty Images

The TFG moves into the capital from its interim headquarters in the western city of Baidoa.

2007
2007
February 2007
Regional Peacekeepers Arrive
Ugandan soldiers, part of the first African Union peacekeepers, walk of a plane at Mogadishu airport.
Ugandan soldiers arrive at Aden Adde International Airport in Mogadishu. Shabelle Media/Reuters

The United Nations approves a regional peacekeeping force known as the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to support the TFG in its battle against al-Shabab.

2007
2008
February 2008
U.S. Designates al-Shabab Terrorists
Al-Shabab fighters carrying flags and wepons, march on the outskirts of Mogadishu.
Al-Shabab fighters march on the outskirts of Mogadishu. Mowliid Ibdi/Reuters

The U.S. State Department designates al-Shabab a foreign terrorist organization, blocking anyone in the United States from providing financial support to the group.

2008
2009
January 13, 2009
Ethiopia Pulls Out
Photo showing Ethiopian troops as they leave Mogadishu in their truck.
Ethiopian troops as they leave Mogadishu. Ismail Taxta/Reuters

Ethiopian troops withdraw from Somalia after a series of setbacks and are replaced by AMISOM forces. The country does not redeploy troops to Somalia until 2014, when it becomes a contributor to the regional force.

2009
2010
July 11, 2010
A Transnational Terrorist Threat
Three women mourn during a memorial service for Eritreans killed by bomb attack.
Family members mourn during a memorial service for Eritreans killed in twin bombings in Kampala. Reuters

Al-Shabab, in its first foreign terrorist attack, carries out multiple suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, killing seventy-four.

2010
2011
August 2011
AMISOM Turns the Corner
Ugandan peacekeepers from African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) sit outside the stadium in southern Mogadishu
AMISOM forces sit outside Mogadishu Stadium. Feisal Omar/Reuters

AMISOM and TFG forces push al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and other major urban centers after a year-long offensive.

2011
2011
October 16, 2011
Kenya Marches In
A Kenyan Defence Force soldier is pictured looking through branches.
A member of the Kenyan Defense Force looks out from a military vehicle in Ras Kamboni, Somalia. Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

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.

2011
2012
February 2012
Tying the Knot With al-Qaeda
Somalis hold placards as they demonstrate against the Al Shebab Somali rebel group's announcement that they will offically join the Al Qaeda Islamic militant network
Demonstrators in Mogadishu hold posters opposing al-Shabab’s announcement that it will join the al-Qaeda network. Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images

Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri announces al-Shabab’s affiliation with the jihadi network.

2012
2012
October 2012
The Fall of Kismayo
Kenyan soldiers standing in front of airport in Kismayo.
Kenyan forces serving with AMISOM enter the port city of Kismayo. Stuart Price/AFP/Getty Images

Backed by local Somali forces, Kenyan troops sweep into Kismayo, ousting al-Shabab from its last major stronghold and cutting off a major source of the militant group’s funding.

2012
2013
January 17, 2013
A New Beginning
Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud at the State Department.
Clinton shakes hands with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud at the State Department. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

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.

2013
2013
September 21 – 24, 2013
Terror in Nairobi
A police officer with machine gun hides behind wall in the Westgate Shopping Center, looking for suspects.
A police officer secures an area inside the Westgate Shopping Center, where al-Shabab gunmen went on a shooting spree. Siegfried Modola/Reuters

In a multiday raid on a Nairobi mall, al-Shabab militants kill sixty-seven people. It is the deadliest terrorist attack in Kenya in fifteen years.

2013
2013
December 2013
U.S. Deploys Ground Troops
An AMISOM soldier keeps guard on top of an armored vehicle in Mogadishu.
An AMISOM soldier keeps guard on top of an armored vehicle in Mogadishu. Siegfried Modola/Reuters

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.

2013
2014
September 1, 2014
Al-Shabab Leader Killed
A photo showing two men sitting and watching a CNN news broadcast showing the face of slain al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane.
A news broadcast shows slain al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane. Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images

Ahmed Umar, also known as Abu Ubaidah, becomes al-Shabab’s leader after Ahmed Abdi Godane, one of the group’s founders, is killed in a U.S. air strike.

2014
2014
October 5, 2014
Port City Liberated
Somali soldiers with machine guns sitting on truck.
Somali forces make their way to Barawe during the second phase of Operation Indian Ocean. Feisal Omar/Reuters

Somali and AMISOM troops retake the southern coastal city of Barawe nearly six years after al-Shabab gained control of the area.

2014
2015
April 2, 2015
Kenya Again Under Attack
A woman holds another woman who cries after a terrorist attack in Kenya.
Students are evacuated from Garissa University College. Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Al-Shabab 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, exceeds the 2013 mall raid as the group’s deadliest attack in the country.

2015
2017
February 8, 2017
A Contentious Election
Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed addresses lawmakers after winning the presidency.
Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed addresses lawmakers after winning the presidency. Feisal Omar/Reuters

Former Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed wins the presidency. 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.

2017
2017
October 15, 2017
Mogadishu Bombings
Civilians carry the dead body of an unidentified man from the scene of an explosion in Mogadishu.
Civilians carry the dead body of an unidentified man from the scene of an explosion in Mogadishu. Feisal Omar/Reuters

In Somalia’s deadliest terrorist attack, truck bombings in the capital city kill more than five hundred people and injure another three hundred. Al-Shabab is widely believed to be behind the attack, though it does not claim responsibility. Two weeks later, Shabab militants kill at least twenty-nine during a siege on a hotel in Mogadishu; the dead include senior government and police officials.

2017
2017
November 21, 2017
U.S. Escalates Strikes
Al-Shabab militants patrol southern Mogadishu.
Al-Shabab militants patrol southern Mogadishu. Feisal Omar/Reuters

More than one hundred militants affiliated with al-Shabab are killed in a single U.S. air strike northwest of Mogadishu, according to the Pentagon. The strike is one of more than two dozen in Somalia authorized by the Trump administration in its first year.

2017
2017
September 30, 2017
AMISOM Begins Drawdown
Burundian soldiers board a UN plane at Bujumbura International Airport to replace AMISOM troops in Somalia.
Burundian soldiers board a UN plane at Bujumbura International Airport to replace AMISOM troops in Somalia. Renovat Ndabashinze/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The UN Security Council approves the withdrawal of a thousand AMISOM troops by the end of 2017, the first time it has cut peacekeeper numbers in Somalia, as part of a transition of security responsibilities to the Somali government. In July 2018, it votes to delay further reductions until 2019.

2017
2019
January 15, 2019
Attack on Kenya Hotel
Rescuers and journalists evacuate an injured man from the Dusit hotel compound in Nairobi, Kenya.
Rescuers and journalists evacuate an injured man from the Dusit hotel compound in Nairobi, Kenya. Njeri Mwangi/Reuters

Al-Shabab claims responsibility for a deadly siege at a Nairobi luxury hotel complex. At least fourteen people are killed and hundreds of civilians trapped amid an hours-long standoff between gunmen and security forces.

2019
2019
May 31, 2019
AMISOM Downsizes Again
Burundian AMISOM peacekeepers prepare to leave the Jaale Siad Military academy after being replaced by the Somali military in Mogadishu.
Burundian AMISOM peacekeepers prepare to leave the Jaale Siad Military academy after being replaced by the Somali military in Mogadishu. Feisal Omar/Reuters

The UN Security Council votes to withdraw another thousand AMISOM troops by February 2020, which will bring the maximum number of uniformed personnel down to around 19,600. It notes plans for Somali forces to take the lead on security of the country by 2021.

2019
2019
October 2, 2019
U.S. Embassy Reopens
Beachgoers watch a military plane landing at Mogadishu's airport.
Beachgoers watch a military plane landing at Mogadishu's airport, where the U.S. embassy was reopened in 2019. Luis Tato/AFP via Getty Images

After a twenty-eight-year gap, Washington reopens its embassy in Mogadishu, with U.S. Ambassador Donald Yamamoto calling it a “historic day that reflects Somalia’s progress in recent years.” That same day, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announces nearly $260 million in new humanitarian assistance for the country.

2019
20192020
December 28, 2019 – January 8, 2020
Deadly Attacks Signal Resurgence
A Somali police officer walks past wreckage at the scene of a car bombing in Mogadishu on December 28, 2019.
A Somali police officer walks past wreckage at the scene of a car bombing in Mogadishu in December 2019. Feisal Omar/Reuters

Al-Shabab 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. On January 5, the group attacks a Kenyan military base that houses U.S. troops, killing three U.S. personnel. A few days later, a car bombing near the Somali parliament building kills four people.

20192020