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Young men vanish into Somalia, stirring fears of terrorist recruitment

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Young men vanish into Somalia, stirring fears of terrorist recruitment

Anguished Minnesota families say a group of seven youths who vanished on Nov. 4 may have gone to join an Islamist militia. They aren't the first to leave.
By Bob Drogin
January 18, 2009

The bold and underlines are my own highlights.  OM

Reporting from Minneapolis -- Tall and lean, with a wispy mustache and shy smile, 17-year-old Burhan Hassan chalked up A's last fall as a senior at Roosevelt High School, vowing to become a doctor or lawyer.

After school and on weekends, he studied Islam at the nearby Abubakar As-Saddique mosque. He joined its youth group.

"He wanted to go to Harvard," said his uncle Osman Ahmed. "That was his dream."

Instead Hassan has gone to Somalia, the anarchic East African nation that his family fled when he was a toddler. On election day, Hassan and five other youths slipped away from their homes here, and anguished family members now say they may have joined a Taliban-style Islamic militia that U.S. authorities call a terrorist organization.

The youths, who have U.S. passports, followed a well-trod trail from Minneapolis to Mogadishu. Another group took off in August. The FBI believes that over the last two years, 12 to 20 Minnesotans have gone to Somalia.

As a result, a joint terrorism task force led by the FBI is scrambling to determine if extremist Islamic groups are seeking recruits here in the nation's largest Somali community -- as well as in San Diego, Seattle, Boston and other cities.

"We're aware that these guys have traveled from Minneapolis and other parts of the country," said E.K. Wilson, the FBI spokesman here. "Our concern obviously is they've been recruited somehow to fight or to train as terrorists."

Topping their concern is the case of Shirwa Ahmed, a 27-year-old former Minneapolis resident who went to Somalia in 2007 -- and who may be what Wilson called "the first occasion of a U.S. citizen suicide bomber."

Officials believe the naturalized American was on a terrorist team that detonated five car bombs in two northern Somali cities on Oct. 29, killing at least 30 people, including U.N. aid workers.

Ahmed phoned his sister in Minneapolis a day before the bombings to say he would not see her again, according to a family friend. "She thought he was sick," the friend said. The next day, someone else called from Somalia to say he had "gone to paradise" as a martyr for Islam.

The FBI brought back bone fragments and other remains found in Bosaso, one of the blast sites, Wilson said. DNA tests established Ahmed's identity.

He was buried in a Muslim funeral in Burnsville, south of Minneapolis, on Dec. 3.

Ahmed had not been on the FBI's radar before the bombings. And his death raised fears that someone trained in Somalia might import terrorist tactics to America.

"There is always a concern about spillover, bleed-out, call it what you will," said a U.S. official tracking the case who requested anonymity when discussing U.S. intelligence matters. "Especially if they were to return on a U.S. passport."

In late November, Homeland Security officials put the imam of the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque and the coordinator of its youth group on a no-fly list. They were barred at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport from leaving on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The imam, Abdirahman Ahmed, did not respond to interview requests. In a posting on its website, the mosque said it "unequivocally condemns" suicide bombings and other terrorist acts. It blamed the travel ban on "false, unsubstantiated rumors."

The leader of another mosque under scrutiny, the Darul Da'wah center in St. Paul, Minn., denied rumors in the Somali community that the alleged suicide bomber and several other missing men were among his followers.

"Nobody who is part of my mosque left for Somalia except one man who went for his health," the imam, Hassan A. Mohamud, insisted in an interview last week. "He left for depression, stress that he was feeling, and he will be back in three months."

It might seem odd to seek a restorative cure in a country that has been mired in war for 18 years and now is known for its pirates. But many Somalis in Minneapolis retain strong political and social ties to the intrigues and battles in their homeland.

"They each support a particular warlord back in Somalia," Omar Jamal, head of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, explained as he puffed on a huge hookah at the crowded Pyramids Cafe and Shisha Lounge.

Somali refugees began flocking to America in the early 1990s when their homeland erupted in famine and civil war -- a chaotic bloodletting portrayed in Hollywood's "Black Hawk Down."

Like Hmong refugees before them, many Somalis moved to Minnesota for good schools, community aid and unskilled jobs in meat-processing plants and factories. A thriving Somali community, estimated at 60,000, has taken root in the state.

The largest group lives in and around a bleak cluster of high-rise apartments beside a busy highway in eastern Minneapolis, an area known as Little Mogadishu.

Women in thick shawls scurry down the icy streets as men in skullcaps pray in storefront mosques and cluster at a local Starbucks. Jobs are scarce and school dropout rates are high. According to police, gangs with names like Somali Mafia and Murda Squad killed seven people last year.

Saeed Fahia, a community activist and local historian, said many youths struggle with alienation in the cultural cross-fire of Somali tradition and American freedom.

"They're easy to manipulate," he said. Those who went to Somalia, he added, "are trying to find a mission in life. They're trying to find out where they came from and who they are."

Many local Somalis bitterly opposed the Ethiopian invasion of their homeland in 2006. The U.S.-backed force overthrew an Islamic coalition seen as having briefly brought peace, and installed in its place an unpopular regime.

Among the rebel forces now fighting to seize power is Shabab, aka the Youth. The hard-line Islamist militia controls much of southern and central Somalia, and is considered the strongest insurgent faction.

In declaring Shabab a terrorist organization last February, the State Department called it "a violent and brutal extremist group with a number of individuals affiliated with Al Qaeda" -- including the terrorists who bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

It's not clear that the still-missing Minnesotans have joined Shabab or were radicalized at local mosques to join the jihad. But many family members and community activists believe they have.

Abdurahman Yusuf, a local Head Start worker, is convinced that his 17-year-old nephew, Mustafa Ali, was lured to Somalia to join the radical group. "He went to fight for the cause," Yusuf said.

The baby-faced senior at Harding High School in St. Paul had attended both the Abubakar As-Saddique and the Darul Da'wah mosques, Yusuf said. Last summer, the youth embraced the extremist Saudi style of Islam known as Wahhabism, and praised Shabab as the "liberators" of Somalia.

"I told him, 'This is wrong -- your father and your grandfather don't believe this,' " Yusuf recalled in an interview. "He told me they were ignorant. He called me an unbeliever."

On Aug. 1, Mustafa told his mother he "was just going to do his laundry," Yusuf said. "And he never came back."

The youth phoned his mother several days later to say he was in Somalia. He would not say who paid for his ticket, who organized his travel or why he had gone. Other missing youths are said to have made similar calls home.

"No one knows for sure who recruited them," said Abdisalam Adam, an educator who heads the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center around the corner from the high-rises. "But they obviously did not wake up one morning and decide to go."

At first, some community elders and clerics warned families to keep silent to avoid a repeat of the FBI raids, arrests and deportations that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. But the wall of silence began to crumble in November, after the second group went missing.

When Burhan Hassan failed to come home Nov. 4, his mother checked his room and realized that his passport, laptop computer and cellphone were gone.

Family members also found paperwork showing he had nearly $2,000 in airline tickets from Universal Travel -- a tiny business tucked behind the high-rises -- even though he had no job or savings.

The itinerary showed the six youths flew to Amsterdam, changed planes for Nairobi and caught a connecting flight to the Indian Ocean port of Malindi, Kenya.

Hassan's family phoned cousins in Nairobi, who raced to the airport but arrived too late. They then rushed to Malindi, but the boys had already boarded boats headed north to Kismayo, a Somali port that Shabab seized last summer.

Hassan has called three times since then, but he hangs up quickly. His family is convinced that someone monitors his calls, and that the bookworm who once hoped to attend Harvard is undergoing guerrilla training -- or worse.

"He sounds brainwashed," worried Abdirizak Bihi, another uncle. "He talks but doesn't answer questions. . . . He just says he is safe and not to worry. But we are obviously frantic. Who could imagine such a thing?"

Now this is the sort of thing that worries me.  We have large Somali communities here in Canada as well.  I'll bet there have been youngsters sucked into this mindless shit here too. 
Another reason why I hold my beliefs.
There was a reason for Japanese communities in North America having 'eyes and ears' on them during WW2. Everybody knew then and knows now that the vast majority weren't 'plotting,' but when searching for crap, you don't ignore the @ss and look at the belly button....

Today is a different time with a different and much more complex 'foe.'
We know that the vast majority of mosques and Madrasahs here are by and large a peaceful place of worship, but when you get that whiff of something that just doesn't smell right, it's time to take a look and open the ears regardless on whether or not they know they're being watched.

But that's just my opinion anyhow.

Same subject, another article :

Recruited For Jihad? , Newsweek, 24 January
About 20 young Somali-American men in Minneapolis have recently vanished.

It didn't trouble Burhan Hassan's mother that her son had been spending more time
at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, Minneapolis's largest mosque. A 17-
year-old senior at Roosevelt High, Hassan and his family had fled civil war in Somalia
when he was a toddler. Some of the other Somali immigrants in the Cedar-Riverside
housing project where he lived got drawn into gangs with names like Murda Squad
and Somali Mafia. But Hassan was getting good grades and talking about going to
college, says his uncle Abdirizak Bihi. When the boy didn't come home from school
on Nov. 4, his family assumed he was at the mosque. By evening, his mother had
searched his room and found his laptop was gone and clothes were missing. Later,
she discovered his passport had been taken from a drawer she kept locked. "That's
when we realized something serious had happened," says Bihi.

Hassan, his family later found out, had boarded a chain of connecting flights to
Amsterdam and Nairobi and a boat to Kismaayo in Somalia. The city is a stronghold
of al-Shabab, which is one of the country's most hard-line jihadist groups and has
close ties to Al Qaeda. He traveled with at least two and up to five other young
Somali-Americans from Minneapolis, according to others in the community and
law-enforcement officials. Within a day, Hassan phoned home to report he was
safe—but when probed, he said he couldn't divulge more and hung up. The call
and the circumstances of his sudden disappearance led his family to suspect the
worst—that Hassan had somehow been persuaded to join Islamic militants fighting
for control of the lawless country.

That suspicion is now shared by counterterrorism officials and the FBI, who are
probing whether al-Shabab or other Somali Islamic groups are actively recruiting
in a few cities across the United States. The officials say as many as 20 Somali-
Americans between the ages of 17 and 27 have left their Minneapolis homes in
the past 18 months under suspicious circumstances. Their investigation deepened
when one of the missing men, Minnesotan Shirwa Ahmed, blew himself up alongside
other suicide bombers in Somalia last October, killing dozens of al-Shabab's political
opponents and civilians. Ahmed had also prayed at Abubakar, and within weeks the
FBI put the imam of the mosque, Sheik Abdirahman Ahmed, on a no-fly list. Among
the questions investigators are asking: Who persuaded the young men to go? Who
paid for their flights? And what role, if any, has the mosque played in their alleged

Since al-Shabab is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, traveling
to Somalia to train or fight with the group is illegal. But security officials involved in
the investigation have a bigger concern—that a jihadist group able to enlist U.S.
nationals to fight abroad might also be able to persuade Somali-Americans to act as
sleeper agents here in the United States. Al-Shabab has no history of targeting the
U.S. But the group has grown closer to Al Qaeda since the American-backed invasion
of Somalia by Ethiopia in 2006. Al-Shabab has since been working with a number of
non-Somali operatives wanted by the United States, including Fazul Abdullah Mohammed,
an architect of the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, according
to intelligence officials.

As if to underscore the danger, early last week the FBI and Department of Homeland
Security warned in a bulletin for the first time that al-Shabab might try to carry out an
attack in America—timed to disrupt the presidential inauguration. A government official,
who asked for anonymity discussing sensitive intelligence, tells NEWSWEEK the information
came from an informant who notified security officials that people affiliated with al-Shabab
might already be here. The tip-off proved to be a false alarm. Still, security officials view
the bulletin and the disappearances in Minnesota as a warning that Somalia's brew of
lawlessness and radicalism might rebound on the United States. "You have to ask yourself,
how long is it before one of these guys comes back here and blows himself up?" says
a senior U.S. counterterrorism official, who also wouldn't be quoted on the record discussing

Hassan, like several of the other boys who have gone missing, was raised by a single mother;
his father was killed in an accident before the family immigrated. The morning after his
disappearance, his family searched for him at hospitals in Minneapolis and then went to
the police. Osman Ahmed, another of Hassan's uncles, says by then at least two other
Somali families had complained to police that their children had not come home. (The
Minneapolis Police Department referred NEWSWEEK to the FBI, which would provide only
general information.) In a search of one of the missing boys' rooms, family members
found an itinerary issued by a Minneapolis travel agency.

The itinerary, obtained by NEWSWEEK, lists two other travelers in addition to Burhan
Hassan and charts a punishing five-leg journey to Mogadishu departing Nov. 1 (the
reservations were later changed to Nov. 4). The document is significant because it
suggests sophisticated planning. Instead of leaving Minneapolis on the same plane,
each young man was to travel alone—one to Chicago and two to Boston on separate
flights. The counterterrorism official familiar with the investigation says the staggered
departures could be evidence of terrorist "tradecraft." Financing of the trips has also
raised suspicions. The multiple flights would have cost at least $2,000 for each traveler
and were probably paid for in cash. Osman Ahmed says his nephew had no job and
could not have accessed such a large sum.

The disappearances have focused unwanted attention on Abubakar and sown tensions
within the community. To date, no one has produced evidence that recruiting was
underway at any mosque in the city. But several of the young men who left their
homes attended prayers and youth programs at Abubakar, and some family members
and community organizers believe there's a connection. The most outspoken of them
is Omar Jamal, who runs the Somali Justice Advocacy Center. "Someone at the mosque
was getting into the minds of these kids," he says.

Abubakar is wedged between modest single-family homes in a residential neighborhood
of Minneapolis. On Fridays, several hundred people gather in the carpeted main hall to pray
and hear Imam Abdirahman's sermon; at least 40,000 Somalis live in Minnesota, with the
majority concentrated in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area. Though most of the worshipers
on a recent Friday appeared to be Somali, the imam delivered his 20-minute sermon first
in Arabic, then in English and, finally, in Somali. The topic that day was injustice—more
specifically, the injustices Muslims must refrain from committing. The list included suicide.
"Don't kill yourself," he exhorted the crowd. "Anyone who does is unfair to himself, and
Allah will put him in hellfire."

NEWSWEEK found a small number among those who have worshiped at Abubakar and a
recently closed sub-branch known as Imam Shafii Mosque who believed the tone was
sometimes extreme. Yusuf Shaba, who writes articles for the Warsan Times, a Somali-
English newspaper in Minneapolis, says he and his teenage sons attended a lecture at
Imam Shafii Mosque in November by a visiting speaker who had fought in Somalia. His
presentation turned into a rant. "He talked about the need for jihad," Shaba says. "He
got very emotional." Shaba has since kept his children away.

Imam Abdirahman tells NEWSWEEK that he recalls seeing some of the missing young
men at the mosque. But none talked about returning to Somalia. "The youths did not
consult their imam, just as they did not consult their elders," he says. He denies that
any fighters from Somalia (or other countries) lectured at the mosque, and says
Abubakar focuses solely on the community, religion and family: "We give the religious
perspective." Asked about the possibility that outsiders might have used the mosque
to scout recruits, he says, "Mosques are always open to the public … but I don't know
anyone of that kind who recruited [here] or talked to the young men."

The imam says he learned the FBI had placed him on the no-fly list when police at the
Minneapolis airport prevented him from traveling to Saudi Arabia in November for the
hajj. About the same time, FBI agents began coordinating the return to Minnesota of
the remains of Shirwa Ahmed, the young man who blew himself up in Somalia a month
earlier. His family buried him at a cemetery in Burnsville, south of Minneapolis. As for
Burhan Hassan, his uncle Bihi asks, "How does a child who's been in the U.S. since he
was 4 or 5 become convinced to leave his parents and go to war in Somalia?" A number
of families across Minneapolis are wondering the same thing.

With Michael Isikoff And Scott Johnson

US men 'joined Somali Islamists', BBC News, Thursday, 12 March 2009


US officials say several cases of US citizens of Somali origin returning to their homeland
to join the Islamist al-Shabab militia are being investigated. A Senate committee heard
most of the young recruits came from Minneapolis city in the US state of Minnesota.

Al-Shabab leaders have admitted having links to al-Qaeda but the officials said there was
no evidence of Somali-Americans planning to attacks the US. The US state department
considers al-Shabab as a terrorist organisation.


Al-Shabab is now fighting against an
Islamist president

The radical Islamist guerrilla group now controls much of southern and central Somalia.
The group continues to fight even though moderate Islamist Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad
has been elected president by parliament. He has said he will introduce Islamic law,
or Sharia.

Andrew Liepman, deputy director for intelligence at the National Counterterrorism Center,
said: "They are going to Somalia to fight for their homeland, not to join al-Qaeda's jihad
against the United States, so far."He told the Senate Homeland Security committee
al-Qaeda did not have strong organisational links to al-Shabab, despite the group's leaders
admitting to links.

Somali-American recruits to al-Shabab have included a 27-year-old college student from
Minneapolis who blew himself up in Somalia last October.

FBI national security official Philip Mudd said: "Some get there and become cannon-fodder.
"A lot of them are being put on the front line and some of them, I think, have been killed
on the front line, from the United States." Up to 200,000 Somali-Americans live in the US
and other population centres for the ethnic group include Seattle, San Diego, Atlanta and

Analyst Gregory Pirio, who has written a book on Somalia called The African Jihad, told
the BBC's Network Africa programme there was "a lot of distress" in Somali-American
communities about these recruits. "People came here [to America] in large numbers from
Somalia in 1991 when Siad Barre's government fell and there was no central government
in Somalia and they came for opportunity," he said.

"They came for a better life and this really counters their participation in what is the
American Dream and what people think of it."
Before we start chucking any Somalis into internment camps, let me re-emphasize the assessment by the National Counterterrorism Center, from Yrys' post: "They are going to Somalia to fight for their homeland, not to join al-Qaeda's jihad." And NCTC definitely has people who believe there are bin Laden clones under every bed!

Yes, Liepman included the caveat "so far." But "so far" I haven't gone postal against old drivers hovering in the passing lane. Is the potential there? You bet, but I haven't so far.

Somalia is chaos -- an internecine squabble written in huge font -- and these American kids are going to fight for nationalistic reasons; Islamist al-Shabaab is fighting against one al-Qaeda group, with the support of another. Somalia can't even be legitimately called a civil war, it's anarchy. An almost perfect example of Hobbesian "war of all against all"? Yes. A Muslim country with an al-Qaeda presence? Yes, tucked in amongst the smugglers, pirates, hijackers and murderers. An al-Qaeda nerve centre? No.

A good Somalia overview is provided by Jeffrey Gettleman's article, "The Most Dangerous Place in the World," in the current edition of Foreign Policy magazine.

Yes kids, there are bad people out there actively plotting against our lifestyle, but I don't think Canada should be dragged into another iteration of McCarthyism....so far.

Somalia: Cabinet Votes to Adopt Islamic Law, NY Times, March 10, 2009

ISLAM The cabinet voted Tuesday to make Islam the basis of Somalia’s legal system.
The move, which still must be approved by Parliament, was an attempt to isolate more
extreme elements of an Islamic insurgency by agreeing to a demand supported by
moderate elements and much of the population.
As much as I'd like to latch onto this report as something backing up my comments...(especially the bit about the Somali Parliament attempting "to isolate more extreme elements of an Islamic insurgency...")

...at the end of the day, the Somali government's authority extends no more than about 10 blocks from the parliamentary building,


"Hundreds of Somali youngsters are recruited and trained in camps in southern Somalia by al-Shabab, according to a senior police officer.

map showing areas under Islamist control

Meeting al-Shabab
Somali justice, Islamist-style

"The people involved in training children are foreigners who speak English or Arabic and they use translators to help them," says Colonel Abdullahi Hassan Barise.

"They are from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Chechnya and other countries." "

More on link

Swell, just swell...

*Edited to correct typo*
A jihad against Muslims?  At least it's democratic.  Theocratic rule seems to create a lot of dead people.  Christians used to love killing each other until someone figured out that the net effect was bad.  Perhaps millions died in the Thirty Years War.  The last person executed for heresy in Britain, in 1697, was a Scottish student at Edinburgh University, Thomas Aikenhead.  The Blasphemy Statute of 1698 was repealed in 1967.

If these Somali's are recruited into terrorism why do they stay in Somalia? If they bitterly oppose the United States' backing of Ethiopia's invasion something tells me you'd have a bigger effect by detonating multiple car bombs in a busy US street instead of a Somali one.