Al Shabab’s American Connection
A recent suicide bombing by a Somali-American from Minnesota comes on the heels of 18 Somalis charged with recruiting young Somali-American men for al-Shabab, Somalia’s brutal Islamist terror group. Both incidents underscore the growing threat posed by al-Shabab’s pipeline into America’s Somali community.
According to al-Shabab leaders, 25-year-old Somali-American, Abdullahi Ahmed, detonated himself last week in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, killing two African Union peacekeeping troops in the process.
Ahmed was one of 20 Somali-Americans from Minnesota who disappeared in 2007. At the time, all of the men were suspected of having gone to Somalia to join al-Shabab in its fight against Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
Now, that question has been confirmed with the recent indictment of the 18 Somali men, 14 from Minnesota, charged with forming a plan to recruit young Somali men from the Minneapolis area to fight alongside al-Shabab.
According to one of the defendants, Omer Abdi-Mohamed, the Minnesota portion of the terror plot began around September 2007, when the conspirators formulated a recruitment plan that included such logistical issues as travel, use of safe houses, and weapons training. The men then solicited funds for the operation from the Minneapolis Somali community by telling people they were raising money to help relief efforts in Somalia.
Then in early 2008, Minnesota’s jihadist recruits were sent to an al-Shabab training camp in Somalia and provided further weapons training and indoctrination. Their first assignment upon graduation from the terror camp was to ambush a group of African Union peacekeeping soldiers. That assault was videotaped and made into a propaganda video that included one of the Minneapolis men making a speech in which he encouraged more Somalis to join their jihad.
Apparently, some of the American recruits proved more suitable as human explosives. While Abdullahi Ahmed was the latest human bomb, two other Minnesota Somalis suffered the same fates. They included Shirwa Ahmed, the first US citizen to undertake a suicide bombing, who killed himself and 22 others in a suicide attack in October 2008.
Minnesota’s Somali community of 30,000 — the largest in the United States — has become the epicenter of an ongoing federal investigation into its ties to al-Shabab. Prior to the indictment of the 18 Somali men was the arrest in April 2011 of two Somali women from Minnesota, Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan.
Both women have been charged with raising funds for al-Shabab through fraudulent appeals to the Somali community in which they requested funds they said were intended for humanitarian purposes, but which were instead transmitted to al-Shabab in Somalia.
However, it should come as little surprise that al-Shabab has an ardent following among some Somali-Americans. A new report by the Bipartisan Policy Center has found Somali-Americans to represent 31 percent of the 57 Americans charged or convicted of Islamic terrorism crimes in the United States and abroad since January 2009.
Included in this group are 14 Somali-Americans from Alabama, California and Illinois, arrested for providing material support to al-Shabab in August 2010; four Somali-Americans from San Diego, arrested on similar charges in November 2010; and Somali college student Mohamed Osman Mohamud, arrested for a failed attempt to blow up a van full of dummy explosives in Oregon in November 2010.
In fact, the seriousness of the al-Shabab threat is such that Attorney General Eric Holder was forced to acknowledge in 2010 that the routing of fighters and money to al-Shabab constituted a “deadly pipeline.”
Since then, the al-Shabab threat has been the subject of congressional hearings focusing on the growing radicalization of Muslims in America, including the indoctrination and recruitment of would-be-terrorists.
Led by Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, the hearings began as a response to the marked increase in plots and conspiracies by American Muslim extremists, as well as the number of Americans attempting to travel abroad to train and fight with terrorist groups.
To address that issue in general and al-Shabab in particular, Representative King recently stated, “We must face the reality that al-Shabab is a growing threat to our homeland,” adding that no other terrorist organization has come as close as al-Shabab “to drawing so many Muslim Americans and Westerners to jihad.” To confirm that point, King charged that his committee has found over 40 American Somalis having gone to join al-Shabab.
Even FBI director Robert Mueller has voiced serious concerns that Somali-American jihadists may return to the United States and carry out a scheme similar to the foiled plot in Australia in August 2009 in which Somali-Australians attempted to carry out a suicide attack on an Australian army base.
In fact, the Australian episode underscores the global recruitment efforts of al-Shabab. In testimony before King’s committee, Ahmed Hussen, head of the Canadian Somali Congress, stated that al-Shabab in recent years has recruited dozens of young Somali men and women from Ottawa and Toronto.
When asked why al-Shabab would need to recruit Somalis abroad, given they have no shortage of willing recruits in Somalia, Hassan said, “It’s because they have aspirations beyond East Africa.”
While al-Shabab’s original and immediate focus has been to rid Somalia of what it calls an infidel presence and create a Sharia-based Islamic state, its long-term ambition is to create a global caliphate. The ambition to pursue global jihad became official when the group pledged its allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2010.
To that end, al-Shabab has internationalized the scope of its jihadist mission by utilizing the Internet to reach out to Muslims worldwide, heavily increasing the enlistment of foreign fighters, and expanding its interactions with other Islamist terror groups, including Nigeria’s Boko Haram, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP). One of the fruits of that outreach occured in July 2010, when the group launched two suicide bombings in Uganda that killed 79 people.
Unfortunately, with its jihadist operation having increasingly taken root in the United States, al-Shabab’s next target may be much closer to home.