(Reuters) - Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab rebels struck at the heart of the capital Mogadishu on Tuesday, killing at least 65 people with a truck bomb in one of the group’s most deadly single attack since launching an insurgency in 2007.
Here are some details about the al Shabaab group:
— Al Shabaab, which means “Youth” in Arabic, has taken control of large areas of south and central Somalia. The Horn of Africa nation has been mired in anarchy since warlords toppled military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
— The interim government’s attempts to restore central rule have largely been paralyzed by infighting and the Islamist-led insurgency. The chaos has also helped fuel kidnappings and piracy offshore.
— Al Shabaab’s hardline militia was part of the Somalia Islamic Courts Council movement that pushed U.S.-backed warlords out of Mogadishu in June 2006 and ruled for six months before Somali and Ethiopian forces ousted them.
— In August 2011, al Shabaab insurgents began pulling their fighters out of Mogadishu, raising hopes that humanitarian groups would be able to step up aid deliveries after years of blockages by the militant group.
— Rejecting Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s claim to have quashed the insurgency, the militants’ spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, said their retreat was tactical only and they were holding their positions elsewhere in the country.
— The retreat from Mogadishu did signal an acceptance it cannot militarily defeat a government propped up by foreign muscle and firepower, but raised the specter of an escalation in al Qaeda-inspired raids.
— The Somali government has said hundreds of foreign fighters have joined an insurgency from countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Gulf region and Western nations such as the United States and Britain. Some of the jihadists have taken up leadership positions in groups including al Shabaab.
— The Islamists are also increasingly launching cross-border raids into Kenya’s remote north east because they have said that Kenya has trained thousands of Somali recruits to beef up troops loyal to Somalia.
— In July 2010, al Shabaab ramped up the regional security threat it has posed with a bomb attack on Kampala that killed 79 people while they were watching the soccer World Cup final. The strike, their first on foreign soil, was in revenge for Uganda’s contribution to the 9,000-strong AU peacekeeping force AMISOM.
— Late last month militants launched a new offensive on southern towns bordering Kenya and Ethiopia, prompting a swift reinforcement of the porous frontier by Kenyan troops. Somali government troops and allied militia groups regained control of a string of towns along the borders with Kenya and Ethiopia from al Shabaab rebel group earlier this year in a military offensive supported by both neighbors.