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Homegrown Jihad: 10 Years of Terrorist Radicalization in the Somali-American Community

Ten years ago today -- the same day that Barack Obama was elected president -- a group of young Somali-American men left Minneapolis intending to join the al-Shabaab terrorist group in Somalia. Nearly two dozen men were part of that first wave of terror recruits, but they wouldn't be the last. And Somalia wouldn't be their only destination.

This proved to be one of the first major signs of an escalating problem of terrorist radicalization in the Somali-American community that has continued for the past decade. Among the fallout from that radicalization have been several attempted terror attacks here in the U.S., and the death of these youths in fields of jihad abroad.

I was one of the first to speak out about the problem nearly a year before.

In December 2007, I wrote about my attempts to get Homeland Security to prevent the entry of a known deputy of a U.S. designated terrorist leader from keynoting a series of fundraisers in Minneapolis, Columbus, and Washington, D.C. -- three of the largest Somali communities in the country.

That speaker, Zakariya Mahmoud Haji Abdi, was here to raise funds and to recruit for the jihad in Somalia. I noted in my report that a summary, published in Somalia, recorded the fundraiser held in Minneapolis. That event summary is still online.

It was later acknowledged that the fundraisers I warned federal officials about were the tipping point for radicalization in the Somali community.

The first group made up of six men from Minneapolis left only several days after the Zakariya Abdi fundraiser.

Among that group was Shirwa Ahmed, who conducted a suicide terror attack on October 28, 2008, just a few days before the next group left. Ahmed had arrived in the U.S. at an early age, had done well in school, went to college, and had a good job. But he fell into a group at the Abubakar as-Siddique mosque in Minneapolis, which most of the men who later left for Somalia attended.

Twenty people were killed in Ahmed's attack. He became the first known American suicide bomber.

Almost a year to the day after my initial report on the fundraising and recruiting events, I noted Shirwa Ahmed's funeral and the emerging reports from within the Somali community that young men had left to join al-Shabaab.

It took a while for the major new media to catch onto the problem, but they eventually did.

In July 2009, the New York Times published a report on the nearly two dozen men who had left Minneapolis in 2007 and 2008, and highlighted the Shirwa Ahmed case.

Two other Somali-Americans would follow Ahmed as al-Shabaab suicide bombers: Abdisalan Hussein Ali and Farah Beledi. Beledi had previously spoken publicly as a youth worker combating extremism for the Abubakar as-Siddique mosque.