While the group is nominally aligned with al-Shabab, we shouldn't expect to see any operations in Somalia in the near future. Matt Bryden of Sahan Research has noted that the group's orientation is "more Swahili than Somali." Currently, the group is based in Kenya with the primary intention of exporting jihad across East Africa more generally. Specifically, it appears they are emphasizing Tanzania, which has been frequently mentioned in their press releases. Shortly after they announced their allegiance to al-Qaeda and al-Shabab, a public announcement was issued to the people of Tanzania to "protect our shiekhs." In a publication entitled "Protecting our Shiekhs, they wrote, "To sit by idly, and watch the government of Tanzania harass, intimidate and humiliate our Sheikhs is untenable and must now end. Ending such a policy and tactic in Tanzania is not just the responsibility of the Mujahideen but also of all Muslims in Tanzania."
Established in 2008 as the Muslim Youth Center, al-Hijra is al-Shabab's affiliate in Kenya. However, its roots are much deeper. During the 1990s, when Sheikhs Rogo and Makaburi were members of the Islamic Party of Kenya, and began moving into Al-Qaeda circles. While both leaders were allegedly killed in a series of extrajudicial killings by Kenya's Anti-Terror Police Unit in 2012, al-Hijra has continued to flourish. The group has helped facilitate a number of attacks in conjunction with al-Shabab, including the deadly 2013 attack on the Westgate Mall in Narobi.
A great deal of al-Hijra's actions revolved around acting as a support and recruiting mechanism for al-Shabab. For instance, Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a key figure in both al-Shabab and al-Hijra also known as Ikrima, is an operations and recruitment officer who was plausibly involved in Westgate Mall attack's planning. However, they also have a formidable operational capacity. Currently, they stand at about 1,000 members, many of whom are seasoned and dedicated fighters from fighting in Somalia. They have also been implicated in a number of bombings and smaller attacks across Kenya.
Al-Qaeda in Tanzania
Al-Qaeda's involvement in Tanzania is by no means new. The group has conducted operations there since its earliest days as an organization in the 1990s. In 1998, Al-Qaeda conducted a major attack on the U.S. embassy in Dar es-Salaam. More recently, an Al-Qaeda branch called "Muslim Renewal" beheaded a Catholic priest and then shot a parishoner in 2013. In the same year, Muslim Renewal terrorists detonated a bomb outside of a new Catholic church, killing 3 and injuring 60. However, the international community has failed to curb growing extremism and strife in Tanzania. As Jay Radzinski and and Daniel Nisman have noted, "In an all-too-common trend, it could only be a matter of time before Al Qaeda’s veteran terrorists elsewhere in the world take note of Tanzania’s revitalized extremist potential. The combination of economic strife and religious conflict provides fertile ground for these elements to sow their seeds of instability." It appears, unfortunately, that Al-Qaeda has recognized this potential and have put into place an organization bent on seizing the initiative.
The establishment of this group is likely a part of AQ's broader strategy of expanding operations in East Africa. While al-Hijra continues to focus on Kenya, Al-Muhajiroun may act as the group's principle organization concerned with spreading terrorism in Tanzania. This is, in part, evident by the group's heavy emphasis on Tanzania in their media strategy. Furthermore, the tense socio-political environment in Tanzania is a prime environment for the group to thrive in.