African Arguments – Who’s backing Al Shabaab? – Al Qaeda, Eritrea? – By Maddy Fry

The Kenyan government’s decision to invade Somalia was preceded by an ambiguous encounter that received comparatively little coverage. In mid-October, a supposed member of Al-Qaeda, curiously claiming to be from the USA, was seen to be handing out food, clothing and copies of the Koran to famine refugees in the Ala-Yasir camp south-west of Mogadishu. Such an obvious ‘diplomatic’ gesture was certainly a rare one. Given that Al-Qaeda also operates on a somewhat fractured basis, one might also speculate as to whether the figure (who claimed to be in Somalia on behalf of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri) might have merely been inspired, rather than directed, by the organisations leadership. Links between individual fighters can’t strictly be said to always point to a major sense of organisational unity between the two at the highest levels.

Yet in many ways this was rather predictable – not just because since 2007 al-Shabaab have done little to hide their ideological sympathies with their brethren across the water, but also because it points to the increasing usage of smaller groups in the Horn by larger players both within and outside East Africa.  Read more…