Why Al-Shabab is eyeing Ethiopia
The al-Shabab militant group has sown fear and terror in Eastern Africa for more than a decade. The terrorist group is fighting to oust the Somali government and establish a society based on a rigid interpretation of Islamic Shariah law. Its original leadership was affiliated with al-Qaeda. Although based in Somalia, al-Shabab frequently launches terror attacks in other African countries, most notably in neighboring Kenya. It has struck there more than 20 times in the past five years, killing at least 300 people. In January 2019, 21 people died when al-Shabab gunmen attacked a hotel and office complex in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Most recently, Kenyan police shot and killed three alleged al-Shabab members and arrested seven. The men were suspected of planning attacks in the coastal city of Mombasa earlier in October.
Despite long-running military offensives against the group, Al-Shabab still still has a significant capability to carry out terrorist attacks (File: 2010)Al-Shabab says its strikes on Kenya are in retaliation for its troops crossing into Somalia: Kenya first sent soldiers into Somalia in 2011 to target al-Shabab fighters and in 2012 it officially joined the African Union's peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISON. Ethiopia so far evaded large-scale al-Shabab attacks Similarly to Kenya, al-Shabab also has an antagonistic relationship with neighboring Ethiopia. Ethiopia, backed by the United States, invaded Somalia in December 2006, capturing the capital Mogadishu and helping the Somali interim government drive out the loose-knit Union of Islamic Courts, which controlled the capital and much of southern Somalia. Ethiopia also decided in 2013 to send troops to Somalia to join AMISON. In retaliation for this move, al-Shabab renewed its call for 'jihad' against Ethiopia increasing ethnic violence and the fraught political transition sweeping the country since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ushered in a series of reforms when he came to power in April 2018. "There were highly significant political changes in Ethiopia that led to wholesale changes in the federal government leadership and the leadership of the security apparatus as well," said William Davison, Senior Analyst for Ethiopia at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
William Davison, Senior Analyst for Ethiopia, International Crisis Group"The security posts have been re-staffed and it takes time for such a system to be rebuilt." It could be that al-Shabab perceives the security apparatus as weak as a result, and is seeking to take advantage of this, Davison said. As such, the arrests and the televised statement about them could be read as the Ethiopian government putting its ability to fight terrorism on display. However, there is still no clear indication of the identity of the detainees or the circumstances, Davison said. Under the previous regime, international observers were concerned with how the government used the fight on terror to crack down on dissent, Davison pointed out. There's currently no sign of that, but he criticizes that even though the anti-terror law has been revised, the broad scope of what "encouraging terrorism" means under that law makes it "open to be used against political dissidents by the authorities."