With the ongoing conflict in southern Somalia between the Kenyans and the al-Qaeda-linked Shabab militants quickly fading from the headlines, it is easy to forget what is at stake in East Africa and the wider world. The fight is not just a regional one- it underscores the reach that militant groups can have if left to a safe haven where they are free to do as they please. What happens in East Africa does have larger ramifications as militant groups use places like Somalia and the disorder present there to train and organize terrorists, terrorists that can potentially threaten not only U.S. interests in the region but potentially the United States itself.
This week it was reported that Abdisalan Hussein Ali, a 22-year old Somali-American, launched a suicide attack against African Union troops in Mogadishu. The young man was educated and spent a good portion of his life in Minnesota before joining the Shabab a few years ago. The Shabab have actively recruited other Somali-Americans using YouTube videos, and Ali was not the first American to act as a suicide bomber for them. Other Americans have been convicted of aiding the Shabab as well. It is logical to believe that the Shabab will continue to have at least some success in bringing other Somali-Americans over to their cause, and this presents a very real danger to the U.S.
While the attacks by Somali-American Shabab members have yet to directly target U.S. interests in East Africa, that does not mean the United States is protected from future attacks. Using an American in a suicide attack is a publicity coup for the Shabab for a multitude of reasons, and the Shabab would be foolish to not want more of them. While these attacks in Somalia and the surrounding area are useful for the Shabab, an attack against U.S. interests in Africa or inside the United States itself would bring their cause attention they might not ever be able to otherwise replicate. This is potentially made easier by employing Somali-Americans who have U.S. passports, and would presumably be able to enter and move around the country more freely than other Shabab sympathizers. With organization, finance, and devotion to their cause Shabab militants potentially could carry out an attack within the U.S.While the Kenyans have the Shabab on the defensive in southern Somalia, it is important that the U.S. keep the threat of the Shabab in mind while deciding whether or not to aid the Kenyans. Initially it was claimed that the U.S. was actively helping the Kenyan incursion, but that was quickly denied. Whether or not the U.S. is involved, the U.S. is threatened by a Shabab that is free to live and train and attract supporters in Somalia without fear and without consequences, because what happens Somalia might not stay in Somalia.