Al-Qaeda’s branch in Somalia, Al-Shabaab, has released a new video threatening U.S. shopping malls, especially those owned by Jews, specifically Mall of America in Minnesota, West Edmonton Mall in Canada, Oxford Street in London and Westfield shopping centers.
The video is well-produced and runs one hour and 15 minutes. It is titled, “The Westgate Siege: Retributive Justice” and celebrates the September 21, 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya. It is unclear what prompted the video’s release because it does not come on the attack’s anniversary and is not a direct response to any recent event.
It seems that Al-Shabaab is trying to mimic the length and quality of videos produced by the Islamic State (ISIS), even though it makes subtle distinctions between its conduct and that of the Islamic State.
Al-Shabaab highlights how it let Muslim hostages go free during the Westgate attack. It says, “I wish to take this opportunity to tell Muslims that the false accusations hurled at the mujahideen claiming that they kill Muslims is nothing but a baseless lie.”
This is done for two reasons.
First, Al-Qaeda suffered a dramatic loss in popularity due to its attacks on other Muslims in Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State’s predecessor, Al-Qaeda in Iraq led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It is obvious that Al-Shabaab is uncomfortable about the criticism. Many radical clerics even condemn the practice of “takfirism” of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, where other Muslims are unilaterally declared to be apostates and therefore deserving of execution.
Secondly, this film is largely about competing with the Islamic State. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates are aware that the Islamic State and other Islamist terrorists are facing a backlash because of their barbarism. In December, Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban condemned the Pakistani Taliban for committing a massacre at a school in Pakistan.
Al-Shabaab is trying to appear as appealing and successful as the Islamic State. The film matches the Islamic State stylistically, but emphasizes the group’s operational planning for the Westgate attack and the size of the attack. This is likely an indirect comparison with the Islamic State’s less dramatic, more spur-of-the-moment attacks by sympathizers.
This competition with the Islamic State maximizes the pressure on Al-Qaeda and its affiliates to carry out major attacks, especially on America. Al-Shabaab would be a prime candidate for this because it is starting to lose membership to the Islamic State.
A prominent member of Al-Shabaab is an American recruit going by the name of Mujahid Miski. His real name is Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, and he lived in Minnesota until joining Al-Shabaab in 2008. He’s expressed increasing enthusiasm for the Islamic State over the past year but always remained loyal to Al-Shabaab. He only recently began to identify himself as an Islamic State supporter.
Al-Shabaab has been remarkably successful at recruiting Somali-Americans, especially in the Minneapolis area. Now, it is calling on its sympathizers in the area to attack the Mall of America.
The Al-Qaeda affiliate used to focus its efforts on recruiting Americans to come to Somalia. This video is a signal that it is now focusing on attacking America on its own territory.
The ability of Al-Shabaab to strike America should not be underestimated.
An October 2013 study listed 50 U.S. citizens and residents associated with Al-Shabaab. In 2009, a member of Al-Shabaab named Shirwa Mohamed Ahmed became the first American to carry out a suicide bombing.
The actual number of recruits may be higher than 50 because House Homeland Security member Rep. Peter King said all the way back in July 2011 that over 40 Americans and 20 Canadians had joined Al-Shabaab. At least 15 Americans and three Canadians have been killed.
The terrorist group controls parts of southern Somalia, but has been pushed from the capital of Mogadishu and the port of Kismayo. It is believed to have 7-9,000 members and earns millions from selling charcoal. The United Nations confirms that Eritrea, led by a Christian dictator, is materially supporting Al-Shabaab.
Al-Shabaab’s video isn’t one of the countless terrorist propaganda videos that threaten attacks on America. This Al-Qaeda affiliate’s focus has been on Somalia. Now it wants to use its supporters to attack America directly.