The Somalian insurgency al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed 74 civilians, including at least one America, in Kampala, Uganda, on Sunday. Though global attention is focusing on the attacks' ferocity, the most curious detail is that al-Shabaab struck in Uganda at all. The group has never before attacked outside of Somalia and its decision to target Uganda is very unusual for several reasons. There are two likely explanations for this act of terrorism, both with dark implications for Somalia and East Africa.
Though militants did not begin using the name al-Shabaab until 2006, they are part of the same Islamist insurgency that has plagued, and at times partially ruled, Somalia since the 1990s. Al-Shabaab is often compared to al-Qaeda, but the two groups have little in common. While both are violently Islamist, only al-Qaeda is ideology-driven, espouses global ambitions, and a has history of terrorism simply for the sake of killing. Al-Shabaab seeks only to rule Somalia and to impose an extreme form of Islamic law. The group has long privileged its fight for control of Somalia over ideology. As many have pointed out, the attack on Uganda makes sense as part of al-Shabaab's fight against the African Union forces, to which Uganda contributes troops. Only days earlier, the East African block of the African Union voted to increase its peacekeeping force, which seeks to expel al-Shabaab from Somalia's south, from 6,000 to 8,000 troops.