Al-Qaeda’s Endless Jihad in East Africa

On December 16, the Department of Justice announced that Cholo Abdi Abdullah, a 30-year-old Kenyan national, had been charged with plotting a 9/11-style attack inside the U.S. Abdullah was a member of Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, and he began pursuing the hijacking plot in late 2016. Between 2017 and 2019, Abdullah attended a flight school in the Philippines. He was finally detected, arrested in July 2019 and eventually transferred to U.S. custody earlier this month. The court filings reveal that Abdullah wasn’t the only Shabaab operative selected to take part in the hijacking operation. Authorities have identified at least one other prospective pilot, an unnamed individual who was likely detained in Africa.  

While Americans have many other concerns these days, ranging from the coronavirus pandemic to the so-called great power competition with China, the terrorist threat hasn’t gone away. Al-Qaeda operatives with an intent to strike in the West are still out there lurking, hoping to slip through America’s defenses. Fortunately, they’ve failed time and again to pull off another spectacular, mass casualty attack inside the U.S. But that doesn’t mean they will stop trying. 

Shabaab is often described as one of al-Qaeda’s affiliates. Al-Qaeda itself refers to Shabaab as one of its regional branches. Shabaab is waging jihad to topple the U.S.-backed government in Mogadishu and replace it with a totalitarian regime based on its radical version of sharia, or Islamic law. 

A small contingent of about 700 American troops has been working with the Somali government and regional partners to prevent that from happening. But earlier this month, President Trump ordered that they be withdrawn from the country. The conflict in Somalia is considered one of the “endless wars,” which President Trump and President-elect Biden have vowed to end. So, U.S. military forces are being repositioned to neighboring countries. 

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