Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Local Boys Done Bad

The Twin Cities media usually can’t enough local angles to stories. They love to find any Minnesotan who has a connection to events in the news or anyway they can link people in the news to the state. Until recently, there was one notable exception to this local angle interest: the connection between local Somalis and global terrorism. To borrow a line from the old NATN days, the local media was usually curiously incurious when it came to reporting on said connection.

There was far more attention paid to it in the past by international and national media. Recent events have once again raised the profile of the linke. Today’s WSJ contained a piece chock full of Minnesota references called Al Qaeda's African Surge Threatens the U.S.:

The first known Somali-American bomber, Shirwa Ahmed, participated in a suicide attack in northern Somalia in October 2008. Others followed, including Farah Mohamed Beledi and Abdisalan Hussain Ali, both from Minneapolis, who blew themselves up in separate attacks in 2011. Some young fighters became disillusioned upon seeing their compatriots siphoned off for cannon fodder. But there is no escape from al Shabaab, and many who attempted to leave have been executed.

A handful of Americans attempting to join al Shabaab have been stopped by law-enforcement while planning to travel to Somalia. Others, like Kamal Said Hassan and Abdifatah Yusuf Isse of the Minneapolis area, returned to the U.S. after training with al Shabaab. Convicted of providing material support to a terrorist group, Hassan was sentenced to 10 years in prison and Isse received a three-year sentence earlier this year.

U.S. intelligence officials fear that the score or so of American passport holders believed to be members of al Shabaab might return to the U.S. to commit terrorism. Al Shabaab's leadership has not espoused attacks on America, but security experts fear that recruitment targeting Americans increases the probability of an attack.

Last month, al Shabaab released a video featuring what it called its "Minnesota Martyrs." Minnesota is home to the largest U.S. population of Somalis. The 40-minute video, the first in a promised series, featured three Americans. The video glorified the three young men, saying they had given their lives on what is now a global battlefield. Although some within the group may see Africa as their battleground, those who have cemented the relationship with al Qaeda understand that jihad stretches from Morocco to the Philippines, from Tanzania to Iraq. And as al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri has made clear, to the United States.

It appears that recent events have also caused the local media to open up their eyes and recognize a big story in their midst. Today’s Star Tribune featured a front page piece called Slick video rekindles fears that Al-Shabab is recruiting Minnesotans:

The 40-minute recruiting video is as slick as any marketing tool aimed at men in their 20s: patriotic music, commitment to a greater good, guns, even the promise of enjoying life in “the real Disneyland.”

“Minnesota’s Martyrs: The Path to Paradise” features three young Minnesotans who traveled to Somalia to fight for the terror organization Al-Shabab and, ultimately, to die for their cause.

The video caused little stir when it was released on YouTube in August.

But the Al-Shabab bombing of a Nairobi, Kenya, shopping mall and the potential suggestion that Minnesotans may have been recruited to participate in the attack are renewing concerns that young men from Minnesota continue to be recruited to Al-Shabab training camps.

With the largest Somali population in the United States, the Twin Cities area has been a target for Al-Shabab recruiters.

Federal agents have been investigating Minnesota’s terror pipeline for seven years. The FBI estimates 20 young Somali men have left Minnesota to join the terror group since 2007.

Twitter posts and a Kenyan government official have made vague claims of a Minnesota connection to the terrorists’ attack in Nairobi, but there have been no official confirmations of those who were involved.

Under that cloud, Somali leaders and law enforcement officials say Al-Shabab recruitment in the Twin Cities is ongoing. But whether the numbers have changed is hard to quantify.

“We’re aware of some of these efforts, but it’s difficult to determine how widespread it is,” said FBI spokesman Kyle Loven.

It’s encouraging to see that the local media’s curiosity has finally been piqued enough to address the matter. Let’s hope that that it continues with further follow-ups and deeper investigations into the links and the potential for possible terrorist attacks by these recruits closer to home. That’s a local angle that I think we’re all interested in.