Somalia's Al Shabab Terror Group in CIA Crosshairs

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia. -- A young American woman is back home safe with her family following a daring rescue in Somalia.

U.S. Special Forces rescued 32-year-old Jessica Buchanan and 60-year-old Danish aid worker Poul Thisted last week after being kidnapped by Somali pirates in last October.

The elite U.S. Navy SEALs parachuted into the hostile East African nation. Then, under the cover of darkness, moved in on the compound housing the hostages. A fire fight followed.

In the end, nine Somali pirates were dead with both hostages rescued and no U.S. casualties.

Violence Continues

Violence on the Horn of Africa continues unabated. A suicide bomber targeted a once-powerful warlord in an assassination attempt in central Somalia Thursday. One person was killed in the attack.

Meanwhile, Ethiopian and Kenyan troops are preparing for a major offensive against the Somali-based terrorist group al-Shabab. It's part of an all-out offensive by multiple countries including the United States to eliminate the al-Qaeda-linked group.

"We should understand that primary driver of Kenya going in is also the quest for security for its own citizens," said Andrews Atta-Asamoah, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies.

Backed by local militias, Kenyan forces launched air strikes against the terrorists.

"Our troops are not targeting civilians, we are just targeting al-Shabab holdouts or hideouts," Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said shortly after the attacks.

Also in December, Ethiopian troops moved in from the west, seizing the town of Beledweyne and surrounding areas.

"This is a major offensive and I would rank it as the strongest offensive that we've seen since 2006," said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Then in January, Islamic rebels fought back, storming a remote police camp in northern Kenya, killing seven people and taking several hostages.

A Nation Out of Control

The map of Somalia tells the story. The country has been without a functioning government for decades, and the southern and central regions are in the hands of al-Shabab.

"It's in that backdrop that we've seen various Islamists groups with connections to outside trans-national jihadist forces end up becoming dominant players within Somalia," Ross told CBN News.

Somalia's neighbors are trying to change that with help from the United States.

At a secret base some 300 miles south of the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Ababa, the U.S. Air Force is flying secret missions over the skies of Somalia.

Reaper drones equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs are conducting counterterrorism missions from the Arma Minch airfield in southern Ethiopia.

There are also reports that CIA agents operating from the airport in Mogadishu are training a new force to pursue the fighters.

"The United States sees itself as having national interest within Somali because of connections between al-Shabab and al Qaeda," Ross explained.

"These connections include connections based on relationships and include the fact that al Qaeda in its propaganda clearly sees Somalia as being an important part of its overall war against the United States," he said.

City on Edge

"Little Mogadishu" in Addis Ababa is home to tens of thousands of Somali refugees. The military offensive is welcome news there.

"Al-Shabab has made the situation in Somalia worse. Any organization or country which is fighting against al-Shabab we welcome them," Somali refugee Mohammed Issa said.

For most Americans, the movie "Black Hawk Down" was an introduction to the chaos that's come to symbolize life on the streets of Mogadishu.

On, Oct. 3, 1993, 18 Americans lost their lives in the battle for Mogadishu. Today not much has changed and it's still a city on edge.

But for the first time there's a ray of hope that the Kenya, Ethiopia, and United States offensive against al-Shabab will prove successful.

Facing a potential defeat, the group has gone on the offensive, launching a Twitter account in December to court new recruits.

The group has more than 9,200 followers and most of the tweets are in English. The U.S. government is trying to shut down the account.

In January, al-Shabab posted a video on a jihadist website urging followers to join their cause. The man in the video, reportedly a top al-Shabab fighter, also declared war on Kenya.

"No one doubts that jihad should now be waged inside Kenya which is legally a war zone," he said.

A Problem for America

U.S. authorities have cause for concern. Seven foreign al-Shabab recruits, including former U.S. Army soldier Craig Baxam, were arrested in Kenya recently. Authorities say Baxam told the FBI he was willing to fight for al-Shabab.

"For Craig Baxam for example, he spoke of the fact that he wanted to live under a Sharia state that was being implemented by Shabab. Some of them view this as being very much a religious thing where Somalia represents what they see as a true Islam," Ross said.

Baxam is not alone.

Since 2007 federal investigators said more than 40 Americans have joined al-Shabab. Several were killed in military operations. At least two died in Somalia as suicide bombers.

Now, there's growing concern that al-Shabab is trying to connect with other al Qaeda-linked groups in Africa.

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CBN News
George Thomas

George Thomas

CBN News Sr. Reporter

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