Analysts Debate Strength of al-Shabab
September 27,2013

Mary Italo, center, grieves with other relatives for her son Thomas Abayo Italo, 33, who was killed in the Westgate Mall attack, as they wait to receive his body at the mortuary in Nairobi, Kenya Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013.
Mary Italo, center, grieves with other relatives for her son Thomas Abayo Italo, 33, who was killed in the Westgate Mall attack, as they wait to receive his body at the mortuary in Nairobi, Kenya Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. The attack on a mall in Kenya this week by a radical Islamic group came as a surprise to many. The Somalia-based al-Shabab had lost territory and influence over the past few years.  But as policymakers coordinate a response to the terror attacks, some analysts warn against an aggressive military response inside Somalia that could alienate locals, and increase support for extremists. Since Kenya joined the African Union Mission in Somalia with the backing of Ethiopian troops, al-Shabab’s hold on southern Somalia seems to have weakened.
Its attacks seemed to be reduced to hit-and-run attacks or the use of suicide bombers.
Until now. This week, several fighters attacked Nairobi’s Westgate mall with machine guns, grenades and other weaponry.  Al-Shabab claimed credit. Some analysts say the change in tactics comes as the result of internal feuding between factions. They say hardliners want spectacular attacks on regional enemies that can also improve recruitment, while others, dubbed “nationalists,” want the focus to stay strictly within Somalia. The hardliners are led by Ahmed Abdi Godane, who has quarreled with other members of al-Shabab and executed top commanders including American-born militant Omar Hammami.  He is said to have criticized the brutal treatment of fellow Muslims by al-Shabab’s occupying forces. …. Reuters quotes diplomatic and Somali intelligence sources that say the attack may have involved Godane’s secret service, the Amniyat, which has its own chain of command and finances. It may also have included a Shebaab unit called Iktihaam, Arabic for “to storm in.” Anneli Botha is a senior researcher with the Transnational Threats and International Crime Division of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.  She said al-Shabab has always been violent, and is not sure it’s necessarily a change in the group’s leadership that moved the group to an extreme. "I don’t think the hardliners took control," said Botha. "Gadane who is still the leader is still a hardliner, and the fight w