Al-Shabaab ended 2019 with a truck-borne improvised explosive device (IED) attack that killed at least 82 people and wounded dozens more in Mogadishu, Somalia. It capped a decade of increasingly deadly complex suicide attacks by the Somali terrorist group that routinely involves homemade IED devices constructed from commercially imported chemical precursors. These materials transit through the same supply chains exploited by criminal entrepreneurs — and well-connected militant groups — shuffling narcotics, illicit wildlife products, and weapons through some of the world’s busiest ports and waterways. And it is in the ability to penetrate licit supply chains and access weapon production materials in which al-Shabaab appears first among rivals.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended global supply chains, impeding both the licit economy and the criminal underworld. These disruptions have been visible in the illicit narcotics and wildlife trade but they have also created opportunities in conflict zones where militant groups — including al-Shabaab — sense an opportunity to expand their writs of influence through violent attacks against beleaguered state governments.