Al Shabab—which regularly attacks the TFG and AMISOM in Mogadishu—has been on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations since 2008. More of a consortium than a rigid organization, Al Shabab is led by a small council that directs the several thousand soldiers who make up the group’s core force. Through alliances with local warlords, clan militias, and businesses, the militants have filled the power vacuum throughout southern and central Somalia. Though more concerned with local issues than a global agenda, the group has been strongly influenced by Al Qaeda. The founder, Adan Hashi Farah ‘Ayro, met Osama bin Laden in the mid-’90s, and other Shabab commanders are said to have trained with Al Qaeda. While these ties probably don’t constitute organizational connections, Al Shabab’s reach does extend beyond Somali borders: A recent UN report called them a platform for other radical Muslim groups in East Africa. The recent congressional hearing on domestic radicalization examined the 20-odd Somali-Americans who left Minnesota to join Al Shabab. Last summer, Shabab planted twin bombs in the Ugandan capital Kampala during the World Cup to protest the use of Ugandan troops as peacekeepers in Mogadishu, killing more than 70 people. (emphasis mine)
Al Shabab is reacting to a tumultuous history in Somali politics. Utilizing the Al Qaeda cover provides a framework to vent that anger. Although, African nationalism is not completely state focused. Much of the state system in Africa is arbitrarily drawn by colonialism. Combine that with Somalia's lack of a central authority since 1991, the mix is not good. So, Al Shabab is reacting to local politics due to a power vacuum, not because they support a nation state system.
Our old notions of nationalism cannot explain this conundrum very well. My points is that international terrorism is very complicated. One model or idea in international relations can not pin down its exact nature. It requires melding several theories together. That presents the question: Is there a way to understand international terrorism at the scholarly level?