Following the recent attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi by the Somali organisation al-Shabaab, it seems somewhat disingenuous to raise the question of whether or not such an entity should be considered a terrorist organisation. However, while al-Shabaab is considered a terrorist organisation by, among others, the US (1), Australia (2) and the UK (3), it is not currently included in the EU list of terrorist groups and entities (4). A recent motion to include al-Shabaab in this list has been made but is as yet unfulfilled (5). We must then seriously consider whether the actions of al-Shabaab to date constitute terrorist activity and whether this merits the addition of the organisation to the EU list of terrorist groups and entities.
Originally an organ of the Islamic Courts Union, which came to power over most of Somalia in 2006, al-Shabaab emerged as an extremist organisation which violently enforced strict sharia law, and which gained nationalist appeal as it led an insurgency resisting the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopian forces in late 2006. Since then, al-Shabaab has continued to wage war against Somali government and foreign forces with Somalia, but has also evolved into ‘a hybrid movement that has increasingly embraced transnational terrorism’ (6), carrying out terrorist attacks outside Somalia.
On July 11 2010, al-Shabaab carried out its first major international attack in Kampala, Uganda. Bombings occurred at two locations in the Ugandan capital where people were watching the final of the FIFA World Cup, killing 73 people. Ugandan police believe that the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers, and al-Shabaab claimed responsibility, saying that it was in retaliation for the actions of largely Ugandan African Union forces in Somalia (7).
The recent attack in Nairobi was a similar scale as the attack in Kampala, with a similar target, though it was carried out with a different method. On 21 September 2013, several terrorists shot dead dozens of shoppers in the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi and took dozens more hostage. As in the Kampala incident, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack (8).
Among the criteria for being considered terrorist in the EU guidelines are ‘attacks upon a person's life which may cause death’, ‘kidnapping or hostage taking’ and ‘causing extensive destruction to a Government or public facility, a transport system, an infrastructure facility’(9). It is obvious from the descriptions of the incidents in both Nairobi and Kampala that both intentionally caused many deaths, and the attack in Nairobi also included the elements of hostage taking and an attack on a public facility. However, the violent actions in themselves are not sufficient to be considered terrorist, but the EU guidelines also necessitate examining the motive behind the attacks. Among the potential motives listed in the guidelines is that the attacks ‘must be carried out with the aim of seriously intimidating a population, or...