Years of conflict, soaring unemployment and poor prospects, combined with lack of political leadership, have provided fertile ground for the emergence of a number of militias and violent extremist groups, including al-Shabaab. The Ethiopian presence in Somalia during 2007 – 2008 as well as the atrocities committed by both Somali and Ethiopian soldiers, contributed greatly to the support rebel groups received from the population. In spite of the Ethiopian withdrawal in January 2009 and the establishment of the national unity government, al-Shabaab and the Hizb ul-Islam alliance continued their warfare, demanding that the peacekeeping forces of the African Union (AMISOM) leave the country.
However, the terrorist attacks against AMISOM and governmental targets in Mogadishu also affect civilians, and radical Islam is alien to most Somalis. The support which these Islamist groups have received from the population has, according to most observers, significantly reduced in recent years. In December 2010, a weakened Hizb ul-Islam was dissolved, and several of the organisation's members joined al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab continues to support poor, unemployed young men, teenagers and children, and to provide them with clothing, food and weapons. Al-Shabaab is currently in a strained military and economic situation, and there are indications of certain changes in the group's recruitment pattern (interviews with international representatives and Somali sources in Nairobi, March 2011).
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