February 22nd, 2012
12:40 PM ET

Al-Shabaab and instability in Somalia

Children as young as 10 years old increasingly face horrific abuse in war-torn Somalia as the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab has targeted them to replenish its diminishing ranks of fighters, according to a new Human Rights Watch report.

The report was released ahead of a Somalia conference hosted by the British government. On Thursday, senior representatives from more than 40 governments will converge on London in a diplomatic push to find political solutions to restore stability in Somalia. CNN's Elise Labott explains why attendees are facing a tough and complicated challenge in coordinating an international approach to problems like Somali piracy and terrorism springing from the African nation's many years of lawlessness.

Great Britain is hosting the conference, in part, because Al-Shabaab has been recruiting in the U.K. CNN's Nima Elbajir describes "mini-Mogadishu's" across cities in Britain.  These seeming store fronts are actually cafes where Somalis congregate and talk, and possibly where young Somalis are recruited to become terrorists.

Al-Shabaab, which is reportedly tightening its ties to the al Qaeda terror network, is a militant Islamist group that controls much of southern Somalia and is active around the capital, Somalia. It has waged an insurgency against the weak Transitional Federal Government since 2007. More about how the group started

In October, CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank examined the looming threat of Al-Shabaab. An investigation in a 2010 plot in Denmark indicated that what Western counter-terrorism officials had long feared had indeed become a reality. The Somali militant group – in control of more than half the war-torn east African country – had embraced al Qaeda's global Jihad and was now actively plotting attacks in the West. ...

"There is a significant radicalization problem in the Somali Diaspora community in Denmark and Sweden," said Michael Taarnby, one of Denmark's leading experts on Al-Shabaab and a Research Associate at the University of Central Florida, "and intelligence services have very little understanding of what's going on-recruiting informants has been an uphill battle because Somalis don't trust them to protect them."

Al-Shabaab threatens not only Somalia but regional instability.

In September, the U.S. Africa Command warned that Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram in Nigeria and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb were trying to synchronize their efforts to launch attacks on U.S and Western interests, but had yet to show a significant capability to export terror. There is also evidence, according to Western intelligence officials, of cooperation between Al-Shabaab and the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.

Read more about the wider implications and Kenya's high stakes offensive against Al-Shabaab in October 2011.

And what about piracy and kidnapping? Analysts say it's not likely - though it cannot be ruled out – that some kidnappers and pirates have links to militant Islamist groups. But the practice is contributing to the instability of Somalia:

Over the past several years, the pirates of Somalia have enjoyed what might be called a following wind. They operate in a country where government authority is weak and in many areas non-existent. They have the longest coastline of any African country to exploit (3,300 kms), and some of the world’s busiest sea-lanes within easy reach. They have a ready pool of recruits, desperate for a share of the millions that they garner from ransoming merchant ships and their crews. And they have had the time and space to get better at piracy, obtaining faster boats and establishing onshore bases – mostly in northern Somalia.

Read more from CNN's Tim Lister and Zain Verjee

Filed under: Africa • Al-Shabaab • Piracy • Somalia
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