Published On: Sep 23 2013 10:44:43 AM CDTUpdated On: Sep 02 2014 07:33:20 AM CDT
The U.S. military carried out a suspected drone strike in Somalia overnight, supposedly targeting a meeting of top Al-Shabaab leaders. Find out more about these Islamic militants linked to al-Qaeda that are a growing international threat.
Al-Shabaab means "The Youth in Arabic." It emerged as the radical youth wing of Somalia's now-defunct Union of Islamic Courts in 2006, as it fought Ethiopian forces who had entered Somalia to back the weak interim government, according to the BBC.
Currently, it is estimated to have about 5,000 fighters, according to a UN report from investigators published in July.
The group occupied Mogadishu for a time, but was driven out by government forces in August 2011. It still controls much of the southern rural countryside, and mounts regular suicide attacks on the capital.
It has imposed a strict version of Sharia law in the areas it controls, including stoning to death women accused of adultery and amputating the hands of thieves. Here, one of four youths accused of raping a woman is whipped.
Ahmed Abdi Godane is the current leader of Al-Shabaab. Known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, he comes from the northern breakaway region of Somaliland, and is rarely seen in public.
Al-Shabaab became affiliated with al Qaeda in 2012, and has been carrying out guerrilla-style hit-and-run attacks against troops with the African Union Mission in Somalia. At least 3,000 AMISOM peacekeepers have been killed in Somalia since 2007, according to the UN.
Its deadliest attack to date occurred in July 2010, when at least 74 people were killed in suicide bombings while watching the World Cup soccer final in Kampala, Uganda. The strikes were said to be in retaliation for Uganda's role in the African peacekeeping force.
It was also responsible for the siege of the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that left at least 67 people dead in October 2013.
The group has recruited Somalis from America into its ranks, and claims three of the gunmen in the Kenya mall siege are from the U.S. Pictured here is Omar Shafik Hammami, also known as Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, who was an American member and leader of Al-Shabaab until his death earlier this month.
With al Qaeda on the retreat in Afghanistan and Pakistan following the killing of Osama bin Laden, some U.S. officials are worried its fighters will increasingly take refuge in Somalia.