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Somali terrorists are recruiting young Canadian women, official warns

Group may be trying to extend reach, head of Canadian Somali Congress says

By Ian MacLeod, Ottawa Citizen; With Files From Citizen News Services
Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Ahmed Hussein, President of Canadian Somali Congress
Terrorist recruiters are targeting young Canadian Somali women to take up arms, the head of the Canadian Somali Congress told U.S. politicians Wednesday

In testimony before the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, Ahmed Hussen suggested the reason may be increased police and security service attention over the recruitment of "dozens" of young Canadian Somali men from Ottawa and Toronto in recent years.

"Lately, the recruiters have turned their attention to the facilitation of young Canadian Somali women into joining al-Shabab," the radical Somali youth militia now fully integrated with al-Qaeda, Hussen said in a prepared statement.

Much of the youth recruiting is believed to be through the Internet and an online mix of religious tracts, rap music, videos and recruiting pitches delivered in English. Visiting extremist clerics are another propaganda source.

The fear, said Hussen, is that al-Shabab will use Canadians and other westerners to extend its reach outside the war-and famine-ravaged East African nation, where it is battling a weak Western-backed government to turn the country into an Islamic state.

"There is no shortage of foot soldiers and young men that al-Shabab can recruit in Somalia, so why would they spend all this money, effort and at great risk to recruit westerners, people who hold Canadian, U.S. and British passports?" he said during questioning by committee members.

"It's because we think they have aspirations beyond East Africa. They've proven that by attacking Uganda" last July with two suicide bombers, killing 79 people gathered to watch the FIFA World Cup Final on television.

U.S. officials are becoming increasingly worried, too, particularly after capturing an al-Shabab commander who had allegedly been a liaison with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an active Yemeni group that has tried to strike the U.S.

New York Republican Rep. Peter T. King, presiding Wednesday over the third in a series of controversial congressional hearings examining the radicalization of Muslim Americans, said committee staff investigators have determined that 40 Americans and 20 Canadians have joined the group in Somalia.

Critics charge that King's focus on Muslim Americans plays into the hands of extremists who say Washington is wrongly targeting Islam for the 9/11 strikes.

King revealed that three Canadians, whom he did not identify, and at least 15 Amer-icans have been killed in fighting. Previously, only one Canadian death was suspected, that of Mohamed Elmi Ibrahim, a University of Toronto student whom al-Shabab said was killed "in battle" last year. He was the first of six Somali-Canadian men who reportedly disappeared from the Toronto area in 2009.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, 18 people have been charged in a scheme to recruit Somalis from the Minneapolis area to travel to Africa and join al-Shabab. Eight defendants have been arrested, and six have pleaded guilty.

Fourteen people, including several U.S. citizens, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Minneapolis in last August on terrorism charges for travelling to Somalia and joining al-Shabab, which Canada and the U.S. have banned as an outlawed terrorist group.

Canada's first arrest related to al-Shabab was in March, when police detained Mohamed Hersi, 25, as the Canadian was waiting to board a flight from Toronto to Cairo. Police alleged his ultimate destination was Somalia and al-Shabab. He is free on bail awaiting trial on two terrorism-related offences, including counselling a person to take part in terrorist activity.

Hussen could not be reached for comment after delivering his testimony. He has said previously that in addition to the "Somali Six" from the Toronto area, he has been told two young Ottawa men, as well as two young women, also left for the Horn of Africa nation.

His prepared text Wednesday, citing unnamed Canadian national security officials, referred to, "the disappearances of dozens of young Canadian Somali males who had travelled to Somalia to fight for the al-Shabab."

In his testimony, Hussen portrayed Canada's estimated 200,000 Somalis as struggling to fit into mainstream Canadian society since fleeing civil war in the late 1990s.

Almost 85 per cent of Canadian Somalis are under 30, with unemployment in Ottawa and Toronto hovering around 40 per cent in this group. Many young men have dropped out of school. Those who do persevere often can't find jobs in their professions, he said.

"A minority becomes alienated and fall victim to a narrative that turns them against Canada and the United States, the very countries that have sustained them and also gave refuge to their parents as they fled the brutal civil war in Somalia. This dangerous and constant anti-western narrative is fed to them by radicals in our community who do not hesitate to use these vulnerable youth as gun fodder in their desire to establish a base for the al-Qaeda terrorist group in Somalia," he told the committee.

Police and security intelligence work is not enough to counter the threat, he said, nor is only working with religious leaders.

"You need to target the young professionals, people who are coming up, people who are dedicated to the values that have made this country great. Those are the people who have the credibility to turn back against the messaging that leads to radicalization.

"The fact of the matter is you can be a fully functioning Muslim in the United States and Canada more than any other place in the Islamic world because of our freedom of worship."

Although he spent many years in Toronto, Hussen was living in Ottawa when he founded the Canadian Somali Congress, one of the only national associations claiming to represent Somali-Canadians.

The organization does advocacy work and partners with other agencies, including Jewish Family Services of Ottawa, to organize professional internships for young Somali-Canadians.

Hussen often appears in the media, whether to talk about the Somali pirate issue, violence claiming the lives of Somali youth living in Alberta or, more recently, pressing the Canadian government to increase its immigration quota from Somalia in light of the worsening famine there.

Source: Ottawa Citizen