Mogadishu (Caasimada Online) – September 2023 marked a dark phase in Somalia’s history as it witnessed the highest number of suicide bombings in a single month since Al-Shabab began its deadly strategy in 2006.
At least 14 such attacks rattled the nation, marking the most significant surge of suicide bombers in Somalia within a span of seventeen years. These weren’t all successful—Somali officials admirably intervened to prevent three.
The blasts was mainly suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (SVBIEDs) with a rare use of explosive belts or vests.
This variety of assaults spanned from aiming at key officials to terrorizing civilians—a significant number centered in central Somalia, a region currently under intense conflict with Al-Shabab.
The majority of these bombings had specific targets: the Somali government, its officials, troops, or civilians. However, two focused against the Ethiopian forces, attacking separate convoys in southern Somalia.
A concerning fact is that the death toll from these bombings—estimated at 70—might be much higher. Somali and Ethiopian officials have been reticent, possibly downplaying the figures.
Why the sudden spike?
Two main factors can be discerned behind this sudden escalation. Firstly, despite intermittent skirmishes in central Somalia, the large-scale offensive against Al-Shabab seems to have lost steam.
This lull provides Al-Shabab with the much-needed leeway to regroup and deploy suicide bombers with greater frequency. They leverage this freedom to strike at those leading the offensive against them.
In September alone, Al-Shabab attempted to assassinate regional political heads and even the Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
The second factor is tied to geopolitical movements. That month, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) commenced its second withdrawal phase. With an additional 3,000 troops set to depart, Al-Shabab is poised to capitalize on this perceived power vacuum.
In response, Somalia and other ATMIS nations are urging a halt to the drawdown—a call even the African Union endorses.
Al-Shabab’s persistent threat
For context, the FDD’s Long War Journal has meticulously recorded Al-Shabab’s suicide bombings since 2006. Data indicates that Al-Shabab has deployed over 411 suicide bombers in 341 distinct operations, including 36 foiled attempts.
Conservative estimates suggest that these bombers have claimed over 3,000 lives. The gravest of these was the October 14, 2017, attack in Mogadishu, which alone took 587 lives, marking it among the most horrific terrorist bombings globally.
Most of Al-Shabab’s terror exploits are within Somalia, although they’ve managed bombings in Uganda and Djibouti and faced foiled attempts in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Their tactics have evolved over the years, from assaults on military establishments to terrorizing civilians, predominantly employing SVBIEDs.
While the general gender of bombers remains unreported, it’s worth noting that women orchestrated at least nine bombings. Al-Shabab’s campaign is the most formidable among al-Qaeda’s global factions.