Al Shabab Strikes

Last night, terrorists from al-Shabab attacked the Medina Hotel in the port city of Kismayo, Somalia. In a fourteen-hour assault, they murdered 26 people and wounded 56. Two of those killed were Americans.

Assailants from the al-Shabab terror group detonated a car bomb at the entrance gate to the hotel and followed with an assault by gunmen who stormed the building.
The incident lasted more than 14 hours before armed troops shot dead all attackers inside the hotel compound, Col. Abdiqadir Nur, a local police officer, said.

Somalia’s Islamic extremist rebels, al-Shabab, claimed responsibility for the attack.

This is neither the first nor the worst such atrocity perpetrated by al-Shabab. But it occurs to me that the pace of Islamic terror attacks seems to have slowed. I haven’t tried to research the numbers, but impressionistically, it doesn’t seem that terrorist attacks are as frequent as they once were.

To be sure, we still see horrific crimes perpetrated by Muslim activists, like the beheading of two Scandinavian hikers by Moroccans loyal to ISIS. But even these horrors seem to have become less frequent.

For a time, beginning in the 1990s with a series of successful terror attacks and continuing into the early years of this century, jihadists and their sympathizers were triumphant. They believed that the West was pathetically weak, and that history (along with Allah, of course) was on their side. But since then, they have suffered a lot of reversals: among others, the restoration of a reasonable level of peace and progress in Iraq, the killing of Osama bin Laden (by the way, whatever happened to Zawahiri?), the exposure and foiling of numerous plots here in the U.S. as well as in Western Europe, and the destruction of ISIS by the Trump administration. It is success, not failure, that draws adherents to a movement, and the jihadists haven’t had many successes lately.

No doubt, the fact that Western intelligence agencies have penetrated jihadist organizations with sophisticated surveillance as well as human informants has been a major factor. But I suspect that broader forces are at work, too. For one, the universal revulsion of normal people against Jihadi doctrine and actions. Joining a movement that pretty much everyone hates is not appealing to most people.

Another optimistic possibility is that normal, moderate Muslims have quietly moved to quell the radicals in their midst. This kind of thing happens mostly out of sight of outsiders. But if Islamic terrorism really is dying down–again, I haven’t tried to do a numerical analysis, but that is my sense–the most important reason could be that jihadism has been repudiated by most Muslims and their leaders.

Here in Minnesota, where I live, a considerable number of young Somalis have run off to join al-Shabab, enticed by the prospect of jihad which, at one time, was arguably ascendant. Some of them died. But that doesn’t seem to have happened recently. At least, it hasn’t been reported in the news. Here, too, maybe the worldwide failure of the jihadist movement and the sobering reality of what happened to those who joined al-Shabab have combined to dim the glamour of that terrorist group.

In the long run, the main factor that will determine the future of jihadism is the response of normal, moderate Muslims. If jihadism is emphatically rejected and scorned by the vast majority of the world’s Muslims–something that certainly was not the case 15 years ago–it will die.

Is that happening? Call me an inveterate optimist, but I think it might be.