FBI: Somali - Americans Recruited to Fight Jihad With Al Qaeda Linked Group -Senate Committee Testimony
March 11, 2009
Somali-Americans Fight With Al-Qaeda-Linked Group, FBI Says
March 11 (Bloomberg) -- There has been an "active and deliberate attempt" to recruit young Somali-Americans living in Minneapolis to travel to Somalia to fight and train with a group linked to al-Qaeda, according to the FBI.
Since late 2006, an unspecified number of people have traveled from the U.S. to Somalia and were linked with al- Shabaab, a militant group, said Philip Mudd, associate executive assistant director of the national security branch of the FBI, in prepared testimony to be delivered today in a Senate hearing.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is concerned those Somalis may return to the U.S., where they are citizens, and plot terrorist attacks. Those fears were heightened in October when a Somali-American living in Minneapolis went to the African nation and became the first known U.S. citizen to carry out a suicide bombing, according to Mudd.
"While there are no current indicators that any of the individuals who traveled to Somalia have been selected, trained, or tasked by al-Shabaab or other extremists to conduct attacks inside the United States, we remain concerned about this possibility and that it might be exploited in the future," Mudd said in written testimony for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
At least 17 young men have vanished during the past two years from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and are believed to be in Somalia now, said Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in St. Paul, a legal-aid organization, in an interview last week.
The FBI said it has been interviewing relatives of the missing and monitoring other cities with large Somali populations such as Columbus, Ohio, and Seattle, Washington, for reports of disappearances.
Authorities haven't identified who recruited Somali- Americans in Minneapolis, or what tactics were used. "In Minneapolis, we believe there has been an active and deliberate attempt to recruit individuals -- all of whom are young men, some only in their late teens -- to travel to Somalia to fight or train on behalf of al-Shabaab," Mudd said in the testimony.
The majority of them likely were motivated by a desire to "defend their place of birth," though "an appeal was also made based on their shared Islamic identity," Mudd said.
Violent youth crime, gang activity and "tensions over cultural integration" may have contributed to the youths' recruitment, he said.
Some of those recruited from Minneapolis come from single- parent homes, possibly "making them more susceptible to recruitment from charismatic male authority figures," according to Mudd.
Jonathan Evans, a counterterrorism official in the U.K., recently raised concerns in a newspaper interview that residents there had trained in camps in Somalia and returned to Britain.
U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops entered Somalia in 2006 to support a transitional government that was under threat from Islamist and clan-based opposition militias. The militias began a guerrilla war against what they saw as an Ethiopian occupation. Ethiopian troops withdrew from Somalia in January after failing to end Somalia's civil war, leaving much of the southern part of the country under the control of al-Shabaab.
Al-Shabaab was designated as a terrorist group last year by the U.S. Attack Investigated While al-Shabaab has focused its activities within Somalia, its aspirations may be expanding.
The FBI investigated a possible threatened attack by the group that could have been directed at Washington, coinciding with President Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration.
The FBI has flagged the case of Shirwa Ahmed, 27, who lived in Minneapolis before going to Somalia, where he carried out a suicide bombing in October that killed at least 30 people, according to news reports. Ahmed was a naturalized U.S. citizen.
In the U.S., authorities don't believe there is "any form of community-wide radicalization among Somali Americans," said Andrew Liepman, an official with the National Counterterrorism Center, a U.S. agency, also in prepared testimony.
Many Somali- Americans came to the U.S. to escape anarchy and chaos, he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Justin Blum in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org. Last Updated: March 11, 2009 01:28 EDT
Grand Jury Convenes in FBI Terror Case Against Somali-Americans in Minneapolis, Sources Say
For several months the FBI has been investigating about a dozen Somali-American men who disappeared from their homes in the Minneapolis area late last year and may have joined terrorist groups overseas.
One of the men, 27-year-old Shirwa Ahmed, later blew himself up in Somalia. The FBI recently called him the first U.S. citizen to carry out a suicide bombing, and FBI Director Mueller said he was "radicalized in his hometown in Minnesota."
The FBI has interviewed at least 50 people in the Somali community and subpoenaed at least 10 people to testify before a grand jury in Minneapolis, according to Farhan Hurre, the director of the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in St. Paul, one of the largest mosques in the Twin Cities. He said most of those subpoenaed are students at the University of Minnesota. At least two of the men still missing were students at the University of Minnesota.
A woman who identified herself as a 20-year-old student at the University of Minnesota said she testified before the grand jury this morning, after receiving a subpoena on Friday. A copy of the subpoena obtained by Fox News says, "You are hereby commanded to appear and testify before the Grand Jury of the United States District Court." The subpoena told her to appear at 9 a.m. local time. She said FBI agents previously told her that she has "some important information" related to an ongoing FBI investigation. The woman told Fox News she knew four of the Minneapolis-area men who went missing late last year, but she said they were only "acquaintances" whom she knew from growing up in the area. The woman said that during her four-hour testimony today she was asked about the missing men, who they hung out with before they left, and why they may have left.
She said the FBI informed her that she was not a target of the investigation and did not face any charges. The woman also said she asked the FBI today what will happen to the missing men's families, and if the men will be allowed to return to the United States. She said the FBI refused to answer. Hurre said he was told a case has been opened against at least one unidentified person. He said authorities are now "trying to bring the pieces together of what's going on here" in Minneapolis. Specifically, he said investigators are trying to determine who organized the missing group of men, who financed them and how were they recruited. It's unclear whether any charges would target the missing men or someone outside of the group. A spokesman for the FBI Field Office in Minneapolis declined comment. Likewise, a spokesman with the Justice Department's National Security Division said he can't confirm or deny matters relating to a possible grand jury.
The Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center has received some unwanted attention, including threatening e-mails and phone calls, after it was revealed that Ahmed and some of the other missing men had ties to the mosque. In a statement posted online, the mosque says suggestions that it had any role in the disappearance of the Somali men are "unfair" and untrue. "Abubakar Center didn't recruit, finance, or otherwise facilitate in any way, shape, or form the travel of those youth," the statement says. Hurre said the media attention and subsequent backlash are "destroying our community."
Last month the mosque invited the FBI to meet with community and religious leaders to discuss the missing men and other issues affecting the Somali-American community in Minnesota. Hurre said the FBI called this morning to say they are now "ready to meet." A meeting between the FBI and the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center is scheduled for Thursday. Hurre said it will be the first meeting between the FBI and the mosque since federal authorities launched their investigation.
At a forum in Washington two weeks ago, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the trend of young men "radicalized and recruited" in the United States to take up arms overseas "in particular concerns us." "It raises the question of whether these young men will one day come home, and, if so, what they might undertake here," he said.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security is set to hold a hearing tomorrow morning looking at Somalia-based terrorist groups, particularly the Al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab, and their efforts to recruit inside the United States. A top-ranking official with the FBI's National Security Branch, J. Philip Mudd, and the Deputy Director for Intelligence at the National Counterterrorism Center, Andrew Liepman, are scheduled to testify at the hearing.
Mudd: http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/_files/031109Mudd.pdf Liepman http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/_files/031109Liepman.pdf Menkhaus http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/_files/031109Menkhaus031109.pdf Ahmed http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/_files/031109Ahmed.pdf Mukhtar http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/_files/031109Mu