To read the tragic account of one of the estimated 20 young Somalis recruited away from Minneapolis for al-Shabaab, click here.
As the new year begins, al-Shabaab, a terror group fighting to overthrow the government of Somalia, has served notice that it intends to play an increasingly prominent role in international jihad. Al-Shabaab fighters declared their support for Al Qaeda in Yemen following the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253, allegedly by a terrorist linked to that group. And police in Denmark said a man charged with the attempted New Year's Day murder of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard (who drew a controversial 2005 cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammad) was a member of al-Shabaab with "close links" to leaders of Al Qaeda in East Africa. Al Qaeda and al-Shabaab made official their alliance in September.
"It was a brave step taken by a brave Somali man; he attacked a devil who insulted our honored Prophet Mohammed," an al-Shabaab spokesman told the London Daily Telegraph. "Surely an honored Muslim brother or sister will kill that devil on the next attack."
On Monday, an al-Shabaab terrorist killed seven people and wounded 11 others during a suicide bombing at a clinic near the Mogadishu airport.
It appears that the group intends to carry on that fight with recruits from the United States. Between September 2007 and October 2009, 20 young men (all but one of Somali descent), left the Minneapolis area for Somalia to fight for al-Shabaab.
Thus far, Congress and the intelligence community have been reluctant to conclude that Americans who train with al-Shabaab could return and stage terrorist attacks in the United States or threaten American interests outside the Horn of Africa.
Perhaps the most detailed discussion of al-Shabaab recruiting efforts in the United States was a March 11, 2009 Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing where Andrew Liepman of the NCTC and Philip Mudd of the FBI expressed doubt that al-Shabaab could evolve into a major threat to U.S. interests.
But Mudd, associate executive assistant director of the FBI's National Security Branch, provided one significant caveat when asked how serious a problem the group is.
"I would talk in terms of tens of people, which sounds small but it's significant, because every terrorist is somebody who can potentially throw a grenade into a shopping mall," he said. Mudd added that information about the number of American recruits for al-Shabaab is "fuzzy" because "[t]here are thousands of people - thousands - going to the Horn of Africa every month. You can go to Kenya to look at game parks, and it's hard for me to tell you if somebody's going to a game park or going to Shabaab. So I am sure that there are people out there that we're missing."
At least six Americans have been killed after going to Somalia to join al-Shabaab. One of those was Shirwa Ahmed, who left Minnesota in December 2007. Ten months later Ahmed blew himself up, apparently becoming the first American citizen to carry out a suicide bombing. Another is Jamal Bana, 20, who in July was reported killed in Somalia. He was studying engineering at two Minneapolis schools when he disappeared in November 2008. Bana's family said it learned of his fate when a photograph of his body appeared on a website. Burhan Hassan, 17, also disappeared from his Minneapolis home in the fall of 2008 and flew to Somalia to join al-Shabaab. He, too, was shot to death in June. Read more here.
Criminal prosecutions in the United States
Four defendants have pled guilty and await sentencing. One, Abdifatah Yusuf Isse, admitted in April to training with al-Shabaab, building a terrorist training camp and learning to fire weapons. In July, Salah Osman Ahmed pled guilty to traveling to Somalia in December 2007 to fight Ethiopians. During his time fighting alongside al-Shabaab, Ahmed built a training camp and learned how to fire an AK-47.
Court documents unsealed by federal prosecutors in Minneapolis on November 23, 2009 provide a detailed look at how al-Shabaab recruits and raises money in the United States. The documents examine the case of Burhan Ahmed, who was part of a group of four men who left the Minneapolis area in December 2007 to fight against Ethiopian forces that had invaded Somalia. He first went to Saudi Arabia to participate in the pilgrimage to Mecca, then joined the other three at an al-Shabaab safe house in Somalia...more.