How Somali terrorism makes its way to America's shores.
For several years the Somalia-based Islamic terrorist group Al-Shabab has been diligently recruiting new members in the United States, efforts that have produced both a disturbing and growing increase in the radicalization of young Somali-Americans.
When 19 year-old Somali-born Mohamed Osman Mohamud was arrested on November 27 for his failed attempt to blow up a van full of dummy explosives at a tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon, some saw the influence of Al-Shabab.
However, law enforcement officials were quick to insist Mohamud had not been directed by any foreign terrorist organization, pointing out he had been the one to initiate contact with Al Qaeda recruiters in Pakistan in an effort to join its jihadist movement.
While no connection to Al-Shabab apparently exists, it certainly wasn’t an implausible conclusion to draw, given the series of arrests this year alone of Somali-Americans from all parts of the United States. Each were accused of supporting Al-Shabab from either here in the United States or by going overseas to fight in the terrorist group's war against the provisional Somali government.
In fact, Mohamud’s apprehension comes directly on the heels of the November 15 arrest of Nimi Ali Yusuf, a 24 year-old Somali woman from San Diego, charged, along with three other Somali men, with providing Al-Shabab money and other assistance.
Their arrest follows the indictments in August 2010 of 14 Somali-Americans from Alabama, Minnesota and California on similar charges, which forced Attorney General Eric Holder to acknowledge the routing of fighters and money to Al-Shabab to constitute a “deadly pipeline.”
That pipeline began in earnest in 2006 when Al-Shabab, a brutal Taliban-like organization fighting to turn Somalia into an Islamist state ruled under Sharia law, began waging war against both Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and peacekeeping forces of the African Union.
Al-Shabab has been aided in this fight by the assistance of many al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists who have been using Somalia as a safe haven ever since the 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan. The result of their help has allowed Al-Shabab to takeover most of southern and central Somalia, relegating the TFG to a narrow pocket of the Somalian capitol city of Mogadishu.
The other effect of housing so many foreign terrorists has been to turn Somalia into a beehive of terrorist activity, making it the top terror target in the world. According to terrorism analyst Thomas Mockaitis, “Somalia has become what Afghanistan was in the 1980s. It is a failed state and it's a hotbed for [not only] conflict, but also the training and export of extremist activity."
The exportation of Al-Shabab’s terrorist activity became official in February 2010 when the organization declared its alignment with al Qaeda and its quest for global jihad.
As Sheikh Fuad Mohamed Shangole, a top Al-Shabab leader said at that time, “ “The decisions included waging jihad (holy struggle) in the Eastern and Horn of Africa regions in order to liberate the Islamic communities and to link up our jihad to the global one, led by Al-Qaeda and Sheikh Osama Bin Laden.”
So while Al-Shabab had originally recruited fighters from North America, Europe and the Middle East as part of its holy war against the TFG, now finding itself committed to a global jihad, it began an intensive campaign to recruit Somali-Americans to take the fight to the United States. For Al-Shabab, Somali communities in the United States proved to be very fertile recruiting grounds.
These Somali communities, which cover all corners of the United States, are composed primarily of refugees who have been escaping the ongoing civil wars that began in Somalia since 1991 with the ouster of then President Mohamed Siad Barre, conflicts which have gone on unabated ever since.
While most Somalis have earned a reputation as law-abiding and patriotic members of the American community, in a population that has swelled from 35,000 in 2000 to upwards of 150,000 today, there are still a number who feel culturally disconnected, making them ever susceptible to the lure of outside jihadist forces.
As Thomas Mockaitis explains, "Many of these people are in fact the children of refugees. They were probably born in Somalia or born soon after they [i.e., their mothers] came to the United States. And they are not particularly in touch with their parents. And yet, neither are they particularly attracted to or accepted by mainstream American culture. So there is this kind of double alienation that makes them particularly prone to recruitment."
One of the most common recruitment methods used by Al-Shabab is through the use of internet videos to promote their cause in an effort to reach young men who might never have traveled to Somalia.
One of the first such videos released by Al-Shabab was in March 2009 and featured an English speaking Somali from Alabama, Omar Hammami, who urged its viewers to “come and live the life of a muhajid,” adding for emphasis, "We're calling all the brothers oversees, all the Shabab, wherever they are, to come and live the life of the mujahid. They will see with their own eyes, and they will love it."
The effects of these and other recruitment efforts have had some nasty net effects. Most noteworthy was in 2009 when over 20 Somali youth, most from the Minneapolis area, home to the largest concentration of Somalian refugees in the United States, went overseas to fight for Al-Shabab.
While some of that group has been reported killed in the fighting in Somalia, at least six are known to have returned to the United States, presumably to continue with recruitment efforts. In fact, American-Somalis make particularly good recruiters as they can use their American passports to travel relatively freely and easily.
Still, despite their efforts at developing homegrown American terrorists, Al-Shabab has not refrained from attempting to infiltrate its own members into the United States through the porous US-Mexico border, with some estimates as high as 300 Al-Shabab members having safely made it through.
Unfortunately, even those Somalis who have been detained didn’t stay jailed for long. This unfortunate fact was seen in the release of a confidential report that showed Mexican officials in January 2010 to have mistakenly released 23 Somali men shortly after they had been taken into custody, most of whom U.S. officials suspected as having strong ties to Al-Shabab.
The commitment of al-Shabab to promote jihad both in and outside of Somalia has been so successful that according to Chris Harnisch of the American Enterprise Institute, “Al-Shabab is right now one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world.”
Of course, for Americans, the only danger to date so far posed by Al-Shabab has been limited to the preventative arrests of some terrorist wannabes. Unfortunately, Al-Shabab still has plenty of willing candidates lined up to take their place.