Al-Shabab was previously the military wing of the Islamic Courts Union
The group was formerly the military wing of the deposed Islamic Court Union (ICU) that controlled much of central and southern Somalia in late 2006.
However, they were forced out of Somalia by Ethiopian troops in support of the largely powerless UN-backed interim government.
The group refused to engage in the peace process that brought elements of the Islamic courts into the government earlier this year.
Sharif Ahmed, a former leader of the ICU, was sworn in as president of Somalia's government, but his former allies vowed to topple accusing him of betraying the country.
Al-Shabab is led by Muktar Ali Robow, also known as Abu Mansoor, who was previously the Islamic courts' deputy defence secretary.
Since Sharif's government took power, al-Shabab has been waging a brutal war against Somalia's government forces.
Although very little known about the group, it is considered to be a well-organised, hierarchical organisation.
Among the group's stated objectives is to implement its own strict interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia, in Somalia.
Al-Shabab first emerged when they started fighting criminal gangs in Mogadishu, the capital, and later began targeting the city's kidnapping rings, pitting the group directly against the clan leaders who profited from the rings.
It is believed that Adan Hashi Ayro, the group's former military, and his fellow al-Shabab patrons were trained in Afghanistan and built the group along the lines of the Taliban, that ruled in Kabul until 2001.
Adan Hashi Ayro was killed in a US missile attack in May 2008.
Al-Shabab is claimed to have links with al-Qaeda and is on the United States' list of "terrorist organisations".
The FBI has expressed concern that the group may be expanding its reach and actively recruiting western nationals to fight in Somalia and Ahmed has spoken repeatedly of an influx of foreign fighters fuelling the war.
No one knows for sure where al-Shabab gets its financial and logistical support, but Eritrea and some Arab nations have been accused of funding the conflict.
Asmara has repeatedly denied the claims.
Source: Al Jazeera (English)