Al Shabab, the al Qaeda affiliate that has bedeviled the East African country of Somalia for a decade, is currently enjoying its most successful run of attacks in years against the Somali government. Since mid-August alone, the group has killed a number of high-ranking officials, including a senior intelligence officer, a district commissioner, and a general in the national army. Its intensified assault on the government comes in the middle of an electoral process that inaugurated a new parliament in December and is scheduled to bring a new president this month.
Disrupting the electoral process is consistent with an old al Shabab strategy of discrediting any competing sources of authority and legitimacy. However, something new is afoot as well: al Shabab has escalated its attacks in the north of Somalia this year, outside its preferred southern area of operations. The group’s history and ideology suggest the campaign is likely to accelerate once the electoral process finishes. There are a number of worrisome consequences of a northward lunge by al Shabab, the worst of which would be a renewal of ties with the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), historically the al Qaeda affiliate most focused on attacking
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