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.
The Justice Department responded with indictments of eight people in November 2009, and another round of indictments of fourteen people in August 2010 in Minneapolis, San Diego, and Mobile, Alabama, for establishing a terrorist pipeline of money and men from the U.S. to Somalia. Some of those indicted included some of the men who had left.
In 2010 I reported on one al-Shabaab recruit from Ohio, Dahir Gurey, who had been killed in a firefight with Somali government forces in Mogadishu.
A Kenyan journalist reported in 2011 on her travels with another group of al-Shabaab recruits, including six from Minnesota and Ohio, on their way into Somalia.
A documentary on the problem of radicalization in the Somali community came out in 2013, where I noted, based on information from those terror trials, that al-Shabaab recruiters were phoning into meetings at Minneapolis mosques to recruit for jihad. The janitor of the Abubakar as-Siddique mosque, Mahmoud Said Omar, would be convicted for recruiting for al-Shabaab.
By that time, there were already reports of a new wave of Somali-American terror recruits. There were even uncorroborated claims by al-Shabaab that three American recruits had participated in the September 2014 terror attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya that killed 67 and injured 175.
Al-Shabaab even produced a recruitment video titled “Minnesota Marytrs.” It featured three Somali-American fighters who had died fighting with the terror group encouraging more members of the community to join.
But the issue was no longer Somali-Americans joining al-Shabaab, but also joining ISIS and other terror groups in Syria, as I observed in this report:
As I reported here at PJ Media, three Americans were killed in August 2014 fighting with ISIS in Gouta, Syria. Among the dead was Abdirahmaan Muhumed, who had worked at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and even held a security clearance to work at the airport. Eventually, three workers at the airport had joined ISIS and al-Shabaab.
More major news media articles followed after those deaths, noting again the terror pipeline tied to the Somali-American community.
Al-Qaeda operating in Syria was recruiting from the Somali-American community, too.
In April 2015, Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud of Columbus, Ohio, was indicted for training with Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria — where his brother had been killed fighting for the terror group — and returning home intent on conducting terror attacks here. He even conducted weapons training seminars for potential recruits at a local gun range.
I reported at the time that even before leaving for Syria, Mohamud had lied to FBI investigators just two days after becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. He applied for a U.S. passport to travel to Syria just days later.
The threat of terror attacks coming from the Somali-American community has not just been theoretical:
Nov. 2010: Mohamed Osman Mohamud (19) was arrested as part of an FBI sting operation where he attempted to set off a bomb at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Sept 2016: Dahir Adan (22), a Somali refugee who FBI Director James Comey later said had been inspired by extremist ideology, walked into the Crossroads shopping mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and began stabbing shoppers as he shouted, “Allah akhbar,” injuring ten people. Some victims claimed he had asked if they were Muslim before attacking. Adan was killed at the scene. ISIS declared the attack was by a “soldier of the Islamic State.” Even a year later local news media were attempting to downplay the jihadist motive for the attack.
Nov. 2016: Abdul Razak Ali Artan (18), a Somali refugee and a student at Ohio State University, drove into a crowd of students on campus, before emerging from the vehicle and attempting to stab his victims. Thirteen people were injured in the incident, and Artan was killed by a campus police officer. Artan had published a Facebook post immediately before the attack praising ISIS. The terror group claimed credit for the attack the following day.
Oct. 2017: Abdullahi Hasan Sharif (30), who had illegally entered the U.S. in 2011 and later crossed into Canada, drove into pedestrians in downtown Edmonton, Canada, injuring five people including stabbing a police officer. An ISIS flag was found inside his vehicle. He had been held by ICE in the U.S. for four months as he was being prepared to be deported, but he was released in September 2012 and U.S. immigration officials lost track of him. He was investigated by the RCMP in 2015, but deemed not a threat.
Nov. 2017: Mahad Abdiaziz Abdirahaman (20) stabbed two victims in an attack at the Mall of America in the Minneapolis area, injuring two people. Last January he submitted a statement to the court saying that he was inspired by ISIS and he was responding to their call for jihad. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
It is important to note that many within the Somali-American community have repeatedly spoken out against the extremism in their community, only to be ignored by law enforcement and political officials. At times, Homeland Security officials have attempted to downplay the extent of the problem.
Some Islamist groups, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), have also attempted to silence and smear those within the community for speaking out, which has brought protests against the group:
Now ten years into the radicalization problem in the Somali-American community, despite prosecutions and convictions, as well as dubious “countering violent extremism” (CVE) efforts, we have failed to address the problem.