Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked militant group based in Somalia, has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack at Kenyan mall. Here is a Q and A that looks at this group:
What is Al-Shabaab and what are its aims?
Al-Shabaab is a Somalian group that was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government in March 2008. It is seeking to turn Somalia into a fundamentalist Islamic state, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, which published a backgrounder on the group in July.
The group is believed to be responsible for attacks in Somalia that have killed international aid workers, journalists, civilian leaders and African Union peacekeepers.
It has struck abroad, too. It was responsible for the July 2010 suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, that killed more than 70 people, including a U.S. citizen, as they gathered to watch a World Cup final soccer match.
How big is it?
The total size of the group is not clear.
A U.S. official who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information said in 2011 that Al-Shabaab was estimated to control up to 1,000 fighters in the country.
A U.N. report identifies one insurgent leader who is "believed to command an estimated force of between 200 and 500 fighters," most of them Kenyans.
And it has links to other groups. In February 2012, the group's leader, Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed, and al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video announcing the alliance of the two organizations.
Though Al-Shabaab's size may be in doubt, its potential for sowing terror is not.
"I would say that the greatest risks right now in East Africa are Al-Shabaab and the violent extremists that they represent," said Gen. Carter Ham in 2011, when he was commander of the U.S. Africa Command.
Decades of weak government amid grinding poverty have long made Somalia a target for radical Islamist groups.
Al-Shabaab's predecessor was al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI), which worked to create an Islamist emirate in Somalia. It was, in part, funded by former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
AIAI, which the U.S. State Department designated as a terrorist organization, strengthened after the fall in 1991 of Siad Barre's military regime and amid the years of lawlessness that ensued.
In 2003, a rift erupted between IAIA's old guard -- who were seeking to establish a new political front -- and its younger members (Al-Shabaab, which means "the youth"), who were seeking to establish fundamental Islamic rule.
That led the latter to ally with a group of sharia courts -- the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) -- that was seeking to impose order over a landscape marked by feuding warlords in the capital city.
Working together, the ICU and Al-Shabaab succeeded in 2006 in gaining control of Mogadishu. That sparked fears in neighboring Ethiopia that violence would spill over there, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Those fears -- combined with a request from Somalia's transitional government -- led Ethiopian forces to enter Somalia in December 2006 and to remove the ICU from power.
That move proved to be a turning point, one that radicalized Al-Shabaab, which attacked Ethiopian forces and gained control of parts of central and southern Somalia, according to a 2011 case study by Rob Wise, who was then with the Counterterrorism Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
What is Al-Shabaab's relationship with Kenya?
In 2011, the Kenyan government ordered a cross-border incursion intended to create a security buffer zone in southern Somalia after attacks on tourist destinations in northern Kenya that it blamed on Al-Shabaab. More recently, Ethiopian troops crossed the border and expelled Al-Shabaab from Baidoa, a strategic town midway between the Ethiopian border and Mogadishu.
The group then targeted African Union soldiers and government buildings in the capital in suicide attacks. A suicide bombing in March 2012 killed five people at the Presidential Palace.
Analysts say tension appears to have been growing within Al-Shabaab between Somalis and foreign fighters, several hundred of whom are thought to have entered Somalia in recent years to join the group.