The development of al-Shabaab's media arm has transformed an insurgent Somali militia into a full-fledged al-Qaida branch, says McGill University's Christopher Anzalone. Flashy videos have given the group a propaganda tool to counter battlefield setbacks and a severe famine, as well as an effective way to recruit Western Muslims.
The group's media arm was launched in 2007 and initially consisted of "simple productions produced with often shaky, probably handheld cameras." In 2009, the group made a "revolutionary leap" with professional video "Labyk Ya Usama" ("We Heed your call Usama"), a polished media piece that united the group with al-Qaida. By 2010, al-Shabaab's Media Department had evolved into the "al-Kata'ib Media" group and in July of that year announced the formation of a "news channel."
Despite a production focus on battles with African peacekeepers and the Somali government, the sophistication of al-Kata'ib Media shows the maturation of al-Shabaab. The media team's videos balance al-Qaida ideology with some concern for the group's international image, particularly in relation to Somali's devastating famine. The multilingual clips have also attracted recruits from Somalia's Diaspora, East Africa, and Western Islamists, but have also allowed al-Shabaab to steer terrorist activities abroad.