Al-Shabab: Who & Why?

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The siege at the Westgate shopping center in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, is in its third day, with heavy gunfire heard and smoke seen billowing from the building.

At least 62 people have been killed since the assault began on Saturday, and officials say a number of civilians are still inside as hostages or because they are trapped. The attack is linked to the Al-Qaeda-backed Somali terror group Al-Shabab.

Al-Shabab means “The Youth” in Arabic and it emerged as part of the the radical youth wing of Somalia's now-defunct Union of Islamic Courts in 2006.

In recent years its influence has waned, losing control of many towns and cities, but remains powerful in many rural areas.

Al-Shabab was forced out of the capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011 and left the vital port of Kismayo in September 2012.

The African Union (AU), which is supporting government forces, hailed both as major victories. But Al-Shabab still carries out fairly frequent suicide attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

There are numerous reports that foreign jihadists, some from the US and the UK, have traveled to Somalia to help Al-Shabab. Its commanders have not denied these reports.

The terrorist group is banned in both the US & the UK.

Joining us from Kenya is Nicholas Kulish, East Africa Correspondent for our partner The New York Times, and in Washington J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council.