The militant group al Shabaab said it would ally with Al Qaeda in a drive to establish an Islamic state in Somalia and fight for Muslims across East Africa, offering a fresh test for U.S.-backed African peacekeepers struggling to defend a weak Somali government.
In a statement Monday, the group said it had agreed, among other things, "to connect the horn of Africa jihad to the one led by Al Qaeda and its leader Sheikh Usama Bin Laden." The statement, written in Somali and Arabic, is believed to be the first explicit confirmation of what U.S. and Somali government have long suspected: Militants in one of Africa's least stable places are sharing resources and merging agendas.
It isn't clear whether this new resolution will result in funding or training from Al Qaeda, or even if it will lead to an official endorsement from the global terror group. At the very least, the statement signals a tightening embrace with foreign fighters who have been supporting al Shabaab's efforts to topple the Somali government.
The cooperation also could spur Somali militants to assist Al Qaeda elsewhere. Al Shabaab has sent fighters to Afghanistan to train with Al Qaeda, according to the Somali government. Al Shabaab recently pledged to send fighters across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, where Al Qaeda is active.
Al Shabaab made its announcement a day after Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed marked his first year in office. The past year has offered little respite from the violence that has rocked Somalia for nearly two decades. In the short term, a combined threat is likely to increase pressure on Mr. Sharif's tenuous government and those trying to stave off its collapse.
The U.S supports Sharif and is the biggest backer of an African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, for which it has provided training and equipment. That support reflects concerns that Al Qaeda is attempting to establish a base in Somalia to attack Western targets.