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September 24, 2013 4:09 PM Should We Be Terrified By Al-Shabaab?

By Ed Kilgore

If, like me, you are trying to catch up with information about the “Kenya Mall Massacre” that began on Saturday and apparently (according to Kenyan government sources) ended today, then check out Dana Liebelson’s explainer at MoJo. The official death toll at this point is at 72—some of them the result of the collapse of several floors of the Nairobi mall during the siege by government troops against hostage-taking terrorists associated with the Somali jihadist group Al-Shabaab.

Though the name of this group is news to most Americans, its character is familiar enough to launch a new round of Islamophobia here in America, with the usual suspects (e.g., Peter King) claiming al Qaeda’s on the rise, and one Fox pundit (token Democrat Bob Beckel) freaking out and demanding a moratorium on mosque construction and admission of Muslim students until such time as U.S. Muslims satisfy Beckel with their level of outrage at the attacks. When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Liebelson reports al-Shabaab is not exactly a global force:

[F]oreign policy experts point out that in many ways al-Shabaab is on the decline. The group has been pounded by the Kenyan and Ethiopian militaries and suffers from internal feuding. According to the Combating Terrorism Center at West, “the militant group has transformed from a Sharia-enforcing body to a weakened band of insurgents…It has ceased to be a viable political alternative to the Somali government.” Slate notes that this could mean the group will start turning its focus to foreign targets, rather than attempting to govern a failed state. But for now, the Obama administration is not proposing any further US military action against the group (it’s already doing drone strikes). “It’s not a question of either direct action or playing a supporting role,” National Security Council spokesman Jonathan Lalley told CBC. “Our approach has been to work to enable and support African partners.”

And no, al-Shabaab’s militants should not be confused with Somali’s famous pirates. The tragic events of the last few days have evoked enough stereotypes as it is.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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