The funeral for Shirwa Ahmed last week in Burnsville, Minnesota, punctuated a growing national security threat metastasizing inside the U.S. — one Homeland Security and law enforcement authorities have quickly taken note of. Ahmed, who killed himself in a suicide bombing attack in Somalia in October, is just one of up to 40 men from the Twin Cities area who have disappeared and are feared to have returned to their homeland for training with the al-Shabaab terrorist group to wage jihad.
The FBI is investigating similar disappearances in other major Somali communities in Columbus, OH, Atlanta, Boston, San Diego, and Seattle. There are even reports coming from Europe, recently from Denmark, of Somali men returning home to fight with al-Shabaab and other terrorist organizations.
ABC News also reports that a Somali from Boston, Tarek Mehenna, a U.S. citizen, was arrested last month on his way to Somalia to wage jihad after being in contact with Daniel Maldonado, a Muslim convert currently in federal prison after pleading guilty to training at a Somali terror training camp after being captured in Kenya with a Somali terrorist cell.
Predictably, Somali leaders in many of these cities are claiming surprise and shock that anyone from their communities and mosques would be leaving the U.S. for jihad. But as Daveed Gartenstein-Ross explained in a Fox News report, there exists an active recruiting and transportation network in the U.S., including Minneapolis, for Somali-run terrorist training camps, many of which have recently reopened. In many instances, these same Somali leaders purporting ignorance and innocence for the local media are not only aware of these recruiting operations, but have actively participated in them.
A year ago I reported here at Pajamas Media (“Homeland Insecurity: Terrorist Fundraising in the Heartland“) on a November 2007 jihadist fundraising and recruiting event held at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Minneapolis, featuring two high-ranking representatives of the Eritrean-based Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS). The event was sponsored by local organizations. Homeland Security officials were warned in advance of the attendance of the two ARS officials, but no effort was made to prevent their entry into the U.S. They later conducted another event in the Washington, DC, area at the Days Inn in Falls Church, VA, which was also sponsored by Somali organizations in Virginia, Minnesota, and Ohio.
One U.S. Somali leader, Abdurahman Warsame, executive director of the Terror Free Somalia Foundation, expressed his amazement that the ARS officials would even be allowed to enter the country, let alone be able to openly conduct fundraising and recruiting for jihad:
This event was definitely intended to organize and mobilize the extreme elements of the Somali community here to support the armed struggle against the internationally recognized Somali government and oppose U.S. foreign policy. [ARS deputy chairman Zakaria Mahmoud Haji] Abdi was openly calling for jihad and directing supporters to use the underground hawala networks to circumvent U.S. controls to prevent terrorism financing overseas. These funds will be used to support the insurgency that is killing civilians, civil servants, and anyone who works for or with the government, in order to further weaken the country and open the doors for foreign terrorists to take control of the country. Why would this man be allowed in the U.S.?
A year later, however, the local media are scratching their heads in wonderment about what has been happening right under their noses. And the same Homeland Security and law enforcement officials who had taken a laissez faire approach to these fundraising and recruiting events are finally reexamining these activities. One Homeland Security official I spoke with last week even cited last year’s Minneapolis event as one of the tipping points in radicalizing certain segments of the local Somali community.
So why are authorities suddenly concerned?
In the past year developments within the Somali terrorist organizations have resulted in splits and fractionalization, with the most radical element, al-Shabaab, the former armed wing of the Islamic Courts Union movement, breaking away and forging closer alliances with al-Qaeda. As a result, Somalia is quickly becoming a new safe haven for al-Qaeda. Al-Shabaab and its leaders were designated a terrorist organization by the State Department back in March.
The most specific concern of Homeland Security officials about the departure of Somalis and other American Muslims for the terror training camps in Somalia is not that they will be killed, as was Minneapolis suicide bomber Shirwa Ahmed, but that they will get trained in the Somali terrorist camps and return home to wage jihad against the U.S. from within.
And al-Shabaab has made clear its intent to attack the U.S. and kill Americans.
MEMRI has translated a video that recently appeared on numerous Somali websites — many of them run from the U.S. — in which al-Shabaab called on Americans and Europeans to join the jihad in Somalia. The video directly threatens Americans with extermination:
I’m telling the kuffar [infidels], the English people, the American people. … We’re coming for you! We’re going to exterminate you all!
Back here in the U.S., many of these sentiments can be heard in many mosques preaching violence and hatred towards America, the country which gave hundreds of thousands of Somalis refuge. In Minneapolis, much of the focus is on the extremist Abubakar as-Saddique mosque, where many of the missing men appear to have been radicalized and recruited. So concerned are Homeland Security authorities about the potential radicalization from the mosque that its imam and youth coordinator were prevented from leaving the country last week to attend the hajj in Saudi Arabia.
In Columbus, several mosques openly preach against America and encourage jihad. One mosque, Masjid Omar Ibn el-Khattab, nearby the Ohio State University campus, was the center of the largest known al-Qaeda cell in the U.S. since 9/11. Three members of that cell have been convicted and are serving prison sentences for terrorism support, though at least 10 others known to be involved have not yet been charged. One of those al-Qaeda members, Nuradin Abdi, a Columbus Somali resident, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years after threatening to blow up a Columbus-area shopping mall.
Another U.S. citizen, Ruben Luis Shumpert, an ex-convict Seattle barber and Muslim convert, was killed in Somalia earlier this year while fighting with al-Shabaab. Shumpert fled the U.S. for Somalia in 2006 before being sentenced on gun and counterfeit convictions associated with terrorism. In a taunting phone call to FBI agents after he had fled, Shumpert vowed that he and his Somali terrorist associates “would destroy everything the United States stood for.”
Thus, as seen in these cases from Minneapolis, Boston, Columbus, and Seattle, fears by authorities of Somali terror spreading to the U.S. through the local Somali community are hardly unfounded. Why Homeland Security and FBI officials have been so slow to respond to this growing threat remains unanswered.
One area they are beginning to take action in is with the flow of funds from the U.S. to Somalia. As noted in a Somalitalk article on the Minneapolis event last year, the hundreds of attendees were instructed on how to illegally transfer funds through the virtually untraceable hawala money transfer networks based in the U.S. The Columbus Dispatch reported two weeks ago that banks in the Columbus area, which is home to the second largest Somali population in the U.S. behind Minneapolis, are closing accounts for these U.S.-based hawala operations concerned about their inability to track where exactly the money goes after the transfer overseas.
Amazingly, however, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and his Somali staff liaison, Abdirizak Farah, are pressuring the local banks to create alternatives to keep the money flowing back to Somalia.
For several years, the media and Homeland Security authorities have failed to take seriously the terrorist threat that has been growing in many communities. Now stunned by these disappearances in Minneapolis and other locations, they are finally beginning to take notice. Whether these very recent efforts will be able to dismantle the extensive terrorist support network here before the threat rebounds from the terrorist camps in Somalia back to the U.S. remains to be seen.