Skip to main content

Australian National Security
You are here >> Skip breadcrumbAustralian National Security > > Terrorist organisations > > Al-Shabaab


Also known as: Al-Shabaab al-Islaam; Al-Shabaab al-Islamiya; Al-Shabaab al-Jihaad; Al-Shabab; Ash-shabaab; Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen; Harakat Shabab al-Mujahidin; Harakatul Shabaab al-Mujaahidiin; Hizbul Shabaab; Hisb'ul Shabaab; Mujahideen Youth Movement; Mujahidin al-Shabaab Movement; Mujaahidiin Youth Movement; Mujahidin Youth Movement; Shabaab; The Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations; The Unity of Islamic Youth; Ugus; The Youth; Young Mujahideen Movement; Young Mujahideen Movement in Somalia; Youth Wing

This statement is based on publicly available information about al-Shabaab. To the Australian Government’s knowledge, this information is accurate, reliable and has been corroborated by classified information.

Basis for listing a terrorist organisation

Division 102 of the Criminal Code provides that for an organisation to be listed as a terrorist organisation, the Minister for Home Affairs must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that the organisation:

  • is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, or assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act; or
  • advocates the doing of a terrorist act.

For the purposes of listing a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code, the doing of a terrorist act includes the doing of a specific terrorist act, the doing of more than one terrorist act and the doing of a terrorist act, even if a terrorist act does not occur.

Background to this listing

The Australian Government first proscribed al-Shabaab as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code on 22 August 2009. It was relisted on 18 August 2012, 11 August 2015 and 4 August 2018.

Terrorist activity of the organisation


Al-Shabaab's primary objective is the establishment of an Islamist state in the Horn of Africa based on Sharia law and the elimination of secular and foreign influence, including through violent means. On 9 February 2012, al-Shabaab pledged its allegiance to proscribed terrorist organisation al-Qa‘ida.

Directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts

Al-Shabaab continues to conduct attacks in Somalia to achieve its aims. It primarily targets Somali Government interests and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces, using mortars, rocket‑propelled grenades, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and firearms. Al-Shabaab previously attacked Western interests in neighbouring countries including Kenya and Djibouti. In 2013 al-Shabaab attacked the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi killing a number of Western citizens, including an Australian.

Recent examples of terrorist attacks and actions for which al-Shabaab is responsible, or can be reliably held responsible since it was last proscribed, include:

  • 11 January 2018: a mortar attack against the Presidential Palace in Mogadishu, killing at least one security guard.
  • 14 October 2017: a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) at an intersection in Mogadishu killing at least 500 people.
  • 11 September 2017: an attack against an army base in Balad Hawo, Somalia using IEDs and gunfire, killing at least 10 soldiers.
  • 3 August 2017: a gunfire attack on a bus carrying passengers in Lamu, Kenya, casualty numbers are unknown.
  • 8 June 2017: an armed attacked against Af Urur military base in Puntland, Somalia killing at least 60 people, including civilians.
  • 24 May 2017: two separate roadside bombings in Kenya that killed eight Kenyan security officers.
  • 13 March 2017: a VBIED at the Weheliye Hotel in Mogadishu, killing at least six people.
  • 27 January 2017: an attack against a Kenyan military base in Kulbiyow, Somalia with casualties of 67 soldiers and looting of weapons and military vehicles.
  • 1 June 2016: an armed attack against the Ambassador Hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia killing at least 15 people.
  • 2 February 2016: an IED attack against Daallo Airline flight D3159 shortly after it departed Mogadishu International Airport, injuring two passengers.
  • 15 January 2016: an armed attack against a Kenyan military base in the El Adde region of Somalia, killing between 60 and 100 people.
  • 1 November 2015: an IED and armed attack against the Sahafi Hotel in Mogadishu, killing at least nine people.

Advocating the doing of terrorist acts

Since al-Shabaab was last listed, it has continued to advocate the doing of terrorist attacks, including:

  • In July and August 2017, al-Shabaab released a series of at least six videos in which foreign fighters from Uganda, Kenya, Canada and Tanzania threaten America, and called on potential recruits to join al-Shabaab and to kill Kenyan soldiers, civilians and police.
  • On 22 May 2017, a propaganda video from an al-Shabaab spokesman speaking at the graduation ceremony of al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia called on the fighters to ‘conquer’ Kenya and threatened Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and Somalia. The spokesperson called on recruits to ‘eliminate all other systems of governance’ and to ‘wage war’.

On 1 January 2016, al-Shabaab released an English-language propaganda video encouraging Americans to travel to Somalia to fight for the group.

Details of the organisation

Al-Shabaab was the most prominent of the militia groups comprising the militant wing of the Council of Islamic Courts (CIC), a group of Sharia courts who united to form a rival administration, before the Somali Transitional Federal Government and Ethiopian forces ousted the CIC in December 2006. Al-Shabaab subsequently established itself as the leading insurgent group operating in Somalia. Following withdrawal of Ethiopian forces in January 2009, al-Shabaab controlled the majority of Somalia. From 2011, the intervention of Kenyan and Ethiopian forces forced al-Shabaab from Mogadishu, and much of southern and central Somalia. The group currently controls some territory in southern Somalia, although this is fluid and frequently changes, depending on AMISOM counter-terrorism activity and troop movements.


Al-Shabaab has a centralised command structure and is currently led by Sheikh Ahmed Umar (also known as Ahmed Diriye), who took over as leader following the September 2014 death of long-time emir Ahmad Abdi Aw Muhammad Godane.


Al-Shabaab members range from those focused on the domestic insurgency in Somalia to elements that support al-Qa‘ida’s global jihadist ideology. Al-Shabaab fighter strength estimates vary from 3 000 to as high as 9 000, with most members being ethnic Somalis. Al-Shabaab members are chiefly from Somalia and Kenya; however, a small number of al-Shabaab fighters are from other countries, including Western nations.

Recruitment and funding

Al-Shabaab recruits widely within Somali society, as well as from the diaspora using propaganda campaigns, often in video format. Al-Shabaab has posted increasingly sophisticated videos online, including videos with English subtitles – most via its al-Kata’ib Media platform. Domestically, al-Shabaab continues to spread its message through Radio al-Andalus in Somalia.

Al-Shabaab derives some of its finances from taxing communities in areas it controls, and private fundraising undertaken by supporters outside Somalia. Al-Shabaab also demands protection money from Somalia-based businesses, and conducts its own business activities trading in and taxing revenue from locally available resources.

Links to other terrorist organisations

Al-Shabaab is an officially recognised affiliate of, and ideologically aligned with, proscribed terrorist group al-Qa’ida. On 9 February 2012, a publicly released video by al-Shabaab leader Mukhtar Abu al-Zubair pledged al-Shabaab’s allegiance to al-Qa’ida. In a reciprocal message in the same video al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced al-Shabaab had joined al-Qa’ida. On 6 September 2014, al-Shabaab officially reiterated its allegiance to al-Zawahiri and Al-Qa’ida. While al-Shabaab largely operates independently, al-Qa’ida senior leadership has previously supported some al-Shabaab activities.

Links to Australia

In September 2013, Australian-British dual citizen Ross Langdon was killed during an al-Shabaab attack on a shopping complex in Nairobi, Kenya. In late 2011, al-Shabaab-linked Australian citizens Wissam Fattal, Saney Edow Aweys and Nayef El Sayed were found guilty in the Victorian Supreme Court of conspiring to do acts in preparation for a terrorist act contrary to Section 11.5 and 101.6(1) of the Criminal Code.

Threats to Australian interests

Al-Shabaab has not made statements specifically threatening Australians or Australian interests. However, al-Shabaab has issued statements threatening Westerners and Western interests and has attacked locations known to be popular with Westerners, including shopping malls and cafes. Australians are a visible Western presence who reside, work and/or travel in regions where al-Shabaab may operate, particularly in Kenya. There are also a number of publicly-listed Australian mining companies and other business interests in these regions.

Listed by the United Nations or like-minded countries

Al-Shabaab was listed as a proscribed terrorist organisation by the governments of the United States in March 2008, New Zealand in February 2010, Canada in March 2010, United Kingdom in May 2010 and by the European Union in April 2010.

Australia lists al-Shabaab for counter-terrorism financial sanctions under UNSC resolution 1373 (2001) and in accordance with its listing by the UNSC through resolution 751 (2001) concerning Somalia and Eritrea.

Engagement in peace or mediation processes

Since it was last listed, al-Shabaab is not known to have participated in peace or mediation processes despite Federal Government of Somalia and AMISOM appeals to the group to disarm and join the Somali peace process.


On the basis of the above information, ASIO assesses that al-Shabaab continues to be directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts or advocates the doing of terrorist acts.

In the course of pursuing its objectives, al-Shabaab is known to have committed or threatened actions that:

  1. cause, or could cause, death, serious harm to persons, serious damage to property, endangered life (other than the life of the person taking the action), or create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public;
  2. are intended to have those effects;
  3. are done with the intention of advancing  al-Shabaab’s political, religious or ideological causes;
  4. are done with the intention of intimidating the government of one or more foreign countries; and
  5. are done with the intention of intimidating the public or sections of the public.