Research

Peer-Reviewed Research Articles

2020. “Dialoguing and negotiating with Al-Shabaab: The role of clan elders as insider-partial mediators.” Journal of Eastern African Studies.

Since 2015, Al-Shabaab and the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) have been locked in a violent,protracted stalemate. There is little momentum to pursue a political settlement, with Al-Shabaab rejecting any overtures of dialogue. Drawing on theoretical perspectives from peace and conflict literature and key interviews with clan elders and Al-Shabaab defectors, this article explores two interconnected themes. First, Al-Shabaab’s dynamic attitudes towards dialogue since the group’s establishment; and second, how clan elders play diverse peace-seeking roles, negotiating between Al-Shabaab and FGS at the microlevel. The article highlights two important findings. First, Al-Shabaab was initially inclined toward dialogue but, following the death and defection of senior members, increasingly adopted an anti-negotiation stance. Second, whilst Al-Shabaab is obstinately refusing any dialogue on the macrolevel, at the microlevel, the group indirectly negotiates with the FGS and other actors using clan elders as interlocutors and facilitators. Finally, the article explores the idea that, instead of relying on foreign third-party mediators to resolve Somalia’s protracted stalemate at the macrolevel, clan elders, as credible insider-partial mediators possessing locally sourced legitimacy and perceived integrity, have the capacity to help overcome the stalemate between Al-Shabaab and the FGS.

2020. “More attacks or more services? Insurgent groups’ behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic in Afghanistan, Syria, and Somalia.” Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, service-providing insurgent groups have responded differently, with some initiating more attacks amid ongoing destabilisation while others have immediately veered towards precautionary measures such as initiating public awareness campaigns and setting up quarantine centres. What drives these divergent responses? Relying on publicly available and semi-private sources, this article examines how the Taliban in Afghanistan, Ha’ayt Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Syria, and Al-Shabaab in Somalia have operationalised their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings reveal that the divergent responses are rooted in the framing of the pandemic discourse. The Taliban and HTS both interpreted it as a calamity that needs responding to and repurposed their activities accordingly by stepping up their attacks against combatants while concomitantly exploiting the humanitarian vacuum created by the pandemic by delivering health services. However, as the pandemic surged, the two groups gradually scaled down their combatant targeting and prioritised delivering health services to bolster their legitimacy and build popular support for their proto-states. By contrast, Al-Shabaab labelled the pandemic as a Western and Chinese ‘problem’, and made no visible changes to their operations in response to the crisis, only belatedly beginning to offer health services as the pandemic worsened.

2020. “How do leadership decapitation and targeting error affect suicide bombings? The case of Al-Shabaab.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism.

Targeted killing is a cornerstone of counter-terrorism strategy, and tactical mistakes made by militant groups are endemic in terrorism. Yet, how do they affect a militant group’s suicide bomber deployment? Since joining Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab has carried out various types of suicide attacks on different targets. Using a uniquely constructed dataset, I introduce two typologies of suicide bomber detonation profiles – single and multiple – and explore the strategic purposes these have served for the group during multiphasic stages following targeted killings against the group’s leadership and targeting errors committed by Al-Shabaab. The findings reveal that targeted killing has the opposite effect of disrupting suicide attacks, instead, leading to a rapid proliferation of unsophisticated single suicide attacks against civilian and military targets to maintain the perception of the group’s potency. Thus, I argue that targeting errors made by Al-Shabaab have a more serious detrimental effect on its deployment of suicide attacks than any counter-terrorism measure.

2019. “Brothers in Arms: The Phenomenon of Complex Suicide Attacks.” Terrorism and Political Violence. Co-authored with Abdi Hersi.

Globally, the spread and use of suicide bombing attacks have become a regular occurrence. Suicide terrorism literature focuses primarily on conventional suicide bombing attacks. However, a growing trend has been observed in the adoption of complex suicide attacks. Using Al-Shabaab as a case study, this paper investigates the phenomenon of complex suicide attacks. We explore the tactical differences of complex suicide attacks vis-à-vis simple attacks in terms of its target goal, discriminative lethality, and delivery method. The paper relies on a uniquely constructed dataset of the group’s suicide operations, employing a variety of data collection techniques. The findings reveal that, inter alia, complex suicide attacks reduce civilian casualties compared to simple suicide attacks. Contrary to the group’s intent and official guidelines to target foreign entities; findings illustrate that domestic targets bear the brunt of most complex suicide attacks. These findings have the potential to contribute to counter-terrorism strategies and be adopted by concerned states in order to effectively protect significant loss of lives and destruction of property resulting from suicide terrorism.

2018. “The application of system dynamics modelling to system safety improvement: Present use and future potential.” Safety Science. Co-authored with Gyuchan Thomas Jun and Stewart Robinson.

System Dynamics has the potential to study the aspects of complex systems including its likely effect of modifications to structural and dynamic system properties that cannot be achieved with traditional approaches. This paper presents a review of literature addressing safety issues using system dynamics across safety–critical domains. Sixty-three studies were included and classified based on a customised human factors safety taxonomy framework. The thematic analysis of the literature resulted in five themes: external factors, organisational influences, unsafe supervisions, preconditions for unsafe acts and unsafe acts. The findings suggest that using system dynamics can be a potential tool in improving safety. This can be achieved through improved decision-making by basing it on system analysis, analysing past behavioural events in a modelling structure to plan effective safety policies, as well as looking at a holistic approach when analysing accidents.

Papers Under Review

  • Provocation and attrition strategies in transnational terrorism: the case of Al-Shabaab.
  • Protection or Predation? Understanding Grassroots Self-Defense Militias during Civil Wars.

Op Eds & Commentaries

Working Papers (selected)

  • “Provocation and transborder guerrilla warfare.”
  • “Al-Shabaab and Islamic State in Somalia (ISS)”