The 2020 Global Terrorism Index shows that in 2019, terrorism deaths in Somalia fell to their lowest level since 2013, declining by 11.9 per cent to 569 deaths when compared to the prior year. Terror-related incidents also fell by 16 per cent to 239 reported attacks in 2019.
Al-Shabaab was responsible for 88 per cent of all deaths in 2019, which resulted in 503 fatalities. This marks a 14 per cent decline since 2018.
Al-Shabaab continued to conduct bombings against civilians and businesses as well as targeted assassinations of key government figures. Civilian deaths accounted for 36 per cent of terrorism deaths attributed to the group, followed by businesses at 22 per cent and government targets at 20 per cent.
Al-Shabaab’s presence is predominantly felt in the country’s southern provinces. Most attacks occurred in the capital city of Mogadishu where 44 per cent were carried out. Although the number of attacks on civilians in Mogadishu declined by 22 per cent, civilian deaths more than tripled, highlighting the increase in the lethality of attacks. This increase in lethality was driven by a series of particularly deadly attacks, including a truck bombing by Al-Shabaab in December 2019 which killed more than 84 people at a police checkpoint.
In 2019, Somali security forces, supported by the US and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), continued to exert pressure on al-Shabaab through coordinated counterterrorism operations. This included 37 airstrikes against al-Shabaab operatives. In response to increased counterterrorism operations, Al-Shabaab have shifted their focus to urban areas like Mogadishu, making it increasingly difficult for US and Somali forces to target the terror group given their close proximity to civilians.
Whilst counter-terrorism efforts have reduced terrorist activity in Somalia, Al-Shabaab retains control over 20 per cent of the country, including areas in the Jubaland region and along the border with Kenya.41 The group has been able to move freely, extort local populations and forcibly recruit fighters, some of whom were children.42 In 2019, the group’s membership was estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000 fighters.
Jabha East Africa was the only other active terror group in Somalia, claiming responsibility for 12 deaths in 2019. The group pledged allegiance to ISIL in 2016 and since then has launched small-scale attacks causing 63 fatalities. Jabha East Africa consists of former al-Shabaab fighters and citizens from Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. In 2019, the majority of deaths attributed to Jabha East Africa were the result of armed assaults targeting civilians, police and military targets.