In what many see as an echo of Afghanistan in the 1990s, the violent chaos of warlords feuding over the spoils of a failed state has produced an antidote in the form of a radical Islamist takeover in Somalia. The East African country has been in turmoil since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, and it is best known in the Western media as the lair of pirates who make millions of dollars by hijacking shipping vessels in the Gulf of Aden and as the source of a growing domestic-terrorism threat in the U.S. from local Somali refugees returning home to join the jihad.
Less reported is the background to these events. A measure of stability was briefly restored in 2006 when the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) imposed on the country a moderate form of Shari'a law that quieted piracy. But the fact that a handful of wanted al-Qaeda militants were being sheltered in the country led the U.S. to back an Ethiopian invasion to topple the ICU, which resulted in its more temperate leadership being eclipsed by its militant youth wing, al-Shabab, which in turn pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. The Ethiopian occupation proved untenable, and al-Shabab today controls much of the country. Somalia's terrorism threat is greater now, both via Somali Americans drawn home for radicalization and through its own operations, like the multiple bombing attacks in Uganda's capital, Kampala, on crowds watching soccer's World Cup final.