Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Somalis in U.S. are condemning the deadly attacks on the Kenyan
shopping mall tied to the extremist al-Shabab Islamic group based in
their homeland. Yet they and others also fear the latest battlefront on
terrorism could radicalize more of their own here.
unclear whether Somali Americans are part of the al-Shabab assault that
has killed 62 and wounded at least 175 in a Nairobi siege that extended
to three days Monday.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said Monday on PBS' NewsHour that
"two or three Americans" and "one Brit" were among the militants in the
attack. She said the Americans were 18 to 19 years old, of Somali or
Arab origin and lived "in Minnesota and one other place" in the United
The FBI said Monday evening that it has no
confirmation of Americans' involvement in the attack but is still
reviewing the situation.
A Sunday Twitter posting said
several of the attackers - including two Minnesota men -were Somalis
recruited from America. But al-Shabab said in a Monday Tweet that it had
not sent the earlier message and didn't identify any of the dozen-or so
mall attackers, at least 10 killed by Kenyan forces who had stormed the
mall to rescue scores of hostages.
The reports of possible
American involvement unnerved Somali refugees who've settled in
Minneapolis; Columbus, Ohio; and other American cities since 1991.
Metropolitan Minneapolis, the nation's largest outpost for Somalis, has
been a recruiting conduit for al-Shabab since 2007, with at least 20
young men having disappeared, according to the FBI.
there is (al-Shabab) terrorist action, the whole community is anxious,
sad and afraid,'' says Abdirizak Ali Bihi, executive director of the
Minneapolis' Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center. "Our hope is
this doesn't involve one of those stupid kids."
The Somali community in Minneapolis, which numbers up to 100,000, plans a Friday rally denouncing al-Shabab.
whose 17-year-old nephew was recruited as an al-Shabab suicide bomber
and is believed to have died in 2008, says outreach programs and law
enforcement have helped curb the terrorist organization's recruiting
efforts, but young Somalia men remain vulnerable due to poverty, high
unemployment rates and disenfranchisement with American society.
and Mohamud Noor, executive director of the Confederation of Somali
Community in Minnesota, fear the potential connection to Somali
Americans will cause a backlash against local Somali residents.
"We are concerned about the safety of the community," Noor said.
Columbus, the center for many of the state's 45,000 Somalians, there
are similar worries. Says Hassan Omar, head of the Somalia Community
Association of Ohio; "Al-Shabab is a threat to everybody -- they
are murderers. The reason we came to this country was because of the
violence that was taking place in Somalia."
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in Columbus to deliver a speech at Ohio
State University, said al-Shabab is a global threat.
Mohamud cited an al-Shabab assault on Somalia's main court complex in
April that killed dozens and a 2010 attack in Uganda's capital that
The attack in Kenya has sparks feared among non-Somalis as well.
feel threatened,'' Omar says. "We don't want our neighbors, our
co-workers or our children's classmates to be scared. America has given
us an opportunity to have a better life. We love this country."
Terrorism expert J. Peter Pham, Director
of the Africa Project at the National Committee on American Foreign
Policy, says the Nairaobi attack could serve as an international
recruiting tool for young Somalis living in the U.S.
publicity that comes from this can be used to recruit the audience of
young, marginalized men who are not incorporated into American
society,'' Pham says. "They're prone to the sophisticated use of Twitter
Indeed, Alabama-born Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki was a
key Al-Shabab recruiter, using the Internet until he reportedly
denounced the organization. His death was announced just two weeks ago.
Al-Shabab's recruiting drive has not ended well for several ethnic Somali men from the Minneapolis area.
In May, four men were sentenced in Minneapolis for providing support to al-Shabab, including money and men.
defendants, by providing material support to a designated terrorist
organization, broke both the law and the hearts of family members across
the Twin Cities,'' then-Minnesota U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said.
"They facilitated the travel of other men to Somalia to fight or they
themselves traveled to fight, often leaving Minnesota in the dead of
night, without so much as a word to their parents."
convictions were linked to a federal investigation known as "Operation
Rhino,'' which focused on the disappearance of several young, ethnic
Somalis from the region since October 2007, others between February 2008
and October 2009, according to an FBI summary.
In July 2008,
federal authorities said, men from Minneapolis participated in an
al-Shabab ambush of Ethiopian troops. On October 29, 2008, one of the
men, Shirwa Ahmed, detonated a improvised explosive device in one of
five coordinated suicide bombings in Bosaso and Hargeisa, Somalia. Ahmed
is believed to have become the first American suicide bomber in
And in May 2011, Farah Mohamed Beledi, who left Minnesota
in October 2009, was killed at a checkpoint in Somalia as he attempted
to detonate a suicide vest.