When Americans think of the homegrown terror threat, many tend to think of al-Qaeda — and names like Anwar Al Awlaki and Adam Gadahn, who are associated with the recruitment of U.S. citizens.
But House Homeland Security investigators found that Qaeda-linked Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab may be just as much of a danger when it comes to the recruitment of young Muslim Americans. Committee chair Peter King revealed during a hearing today that at least 40 Americans have joined Shabaab since 2007.
Of this group, 15 have been killed while fighting with Shabaab and three have been prosecuted in the U.S. But at least 21 still remain at large. This is a growing concern for national security officials because Shabaab-linked incidents account for the largest percentage of homegrown terrorism cases pursued by the Department of Justice during the last few years.
One reason why Shabaab has been so successful at enlisting U.S. citizens is because it operates a robust radicalization network within the country. According to the committee’s report, “Shabaab recruiters have used mosques as cover and as safe places to meet to discuss recruitment and radicalization efforts to send fighters to join a foreign terrorist group, as well as to recruit and raise money to support Shabaab.”
The report details a recent attack on a Minneapolis cleric who voiced disapproval of Shabaab, which is one especially disturbing example of how Muslim American communities are targeted by extremists:
Also in Minneapolis on July 5, a Saudi cleric who denounced Shabaab and other Somali combatants inside the Abubakr As-Saddique Islamic Center – where most of the city’s missing Somali-American men once congregated – was allegedly assaulted by an angry mob shouting “Allahu Akhbar!” (“God is great!”) A recording and account of the assault were immediately posted on overseas-based jihadi chatrooms before most in Minneapolis knew it happened.
“They glorified Allah and showered him with hits and kicks,” a jihadi wrote in a posting on the Shumukh al-Islam forum, which was obtained by the SITE Intelligence Group. “Next time, with permission from Allah, cut off the head of the likes of this filthy one.”
This recruitment activity is most active within the Somali immigrant community in the cities of Minneapolis, Boston, Seattle, Washington, D.C., San Diego, Columbus and Lewiston, Maine – business centers where Somali Americans and immigrants often travel back and forth to their home country.
“Most of these travelers go to Somalia on legitimate business, such as visiting relatives,” reports the committee. But because of the unstable nature of Somalia, intelligence and law enforcement officials have a difficult time tracking the “minority of Somali travelers from the U.S. who link up with Shabaab for terror training or combat.”
Not only does the Shabaab’s active recruitment pose a physical danger, it also poses a psychological danger to the Somali immigrant communities that it terrorizes. These recruiters have already stolen the lives of 40 Americans, who were mainly in their late teens and 20s.
The manipulative tactics of Shabaab recruiters who prey on young immigrants should make all Americans concerned about the government being able to successfully monitor and combat this terror group. Immigrant communities are some of the most vulnerable in the U.S., and that alone should be reason for Congress to continue pursuing this issue until better solutions are found.