African business, politics and lifestyle
Some questions about al-Shabaab
Have the Islamists started to go too far in Somalia?
The reaction among ordinary Somalis to an al-Shabaab car bomb attack on African Union peacemakers last week may be instructive.
The attack was billed as an act of revenge against America for a commando raid carried out a few days earlier by U.S. troops, who killed one of the most wanted al Qaeda men in Africa.
Seventeen of the peacemakers, all Africans, were killed. So too were a number of Somalis who had gone to the peacekeepers’ base for medical attention. At least 19 Somalis died in shelling that followed the car bomb attack.
“Bombing Somali Muslims because of a dead foreign terrorist is totally ungodly and
inhumane,” businesswoman Asha Farah told Reuters after the al Shabaab attack. “I can only say that al Shabaab are mad.”
Her view reflected that of many Somalis that Reuters correspondents spoke to in the capital, Mogadishu.
Will any of this make a difference to a group that has already conducted executions and punishment amputations and which shows no sign of letting up in its fight to oust the transitional government?
That remains to be seen, but it is perhaps worth remembering that both in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, al Qaeda lost a lot of ground when they began killing innocent Muslims during their attacks on Westerners.
There is certainly frustration among Somalis, who feel that al Shabaab is misinterpreting Islam and using religion to justify criminal acts in what is after all a traditionally moderate Muslim society.
Most Somalis are not in a position to take the initiative against al Shabaab — but if a real international force took the fight to them in Mogadishu and elsewhere, it could find it had more support on the ground than expected.