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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
We're going to check in now on a case we first started reporting on over a year ago, the disappearance of more than two dozen young Somali-Americans from the Minneapolis area.As it turns out, the young men were recruited to join the ranks of a Somali Islamic militia called al-Shabab. Al-Shabab is fighting the transitional government in Somalia right now. It's on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, and it's thought to have links to al-Qaida.In response, the FBI launched what has become the biggest domestic terrorism investigation in the U.S. since the 9/11 attacks.NPR's counterterrorism correspondent, Dina Temple-Raston, is here to talk about it.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Hi there.
KELLY: So, Dina, remind us how this case actually started.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, essentially, it all started back in 2007, when there were some young men in the Somali community in Minneapolis who were getting together to talk about politics and the recent Ethiopian invasion of Somalia.
And that invasion whipped up a lot of nationalist feelings in the Somali community in Minneapolis. And allegedly that fall, there was a meeting in a local mosque in which some of the young men in the community called someone in Somalia, and essentially, they offered up their services to this group al-Shabab, which at the time was fighting Ethiopian troops.
Apparently, this al-Shabab guy on the phone in Somalia said, we need you guys here, and these guys started to think about how they could make that happen.
KELLY: Okay. And so, that would be when these young Somali-Americans here in the U.S. started to disappear.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, a short time after that. But the case really didn't get the FBI's attention until about a year later. In October of 2008, there was a suicide bombing against a U.N. compound in Puntland, which is a region in northeastern Somalia, and there was a DNA test done on the bomber. And it turned out that it was a young Minneapolis Somali-American named Shirwa Ahmed. And that's when the case went from local law enforcement to the FBI. And the FBI was worried that it had a jihadi pipeline on its hands, essentially like an underground railroad of sorts that recruits people for jihad.
KELLY: So, how was the recruitment effort organized? How did they actually persuade these young men to go over?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, what they've uncovered is there was some sort of intricate and kind of informal network of people in the Somali community here in the U.S. And apparently, they not only encouraged the young Somalis to travel to Somalia and fight, but they actually helped them pay for it, and they arranged for people to take them to the airport and to meet them in Somalia and to help them get into al-Shabab camps there.
And, you know, this is 20 kids, which is a lot of kids to go and funnel towards Somalia. And the concern that the FBI has is that the situation will morph into one in which the kids come back and decide to launch some sort of terrorist attack here.
Now, the FBI hasn't uncovered anything like that, but of course, that's what worries them.
KELLY: And we're talking about more than 20 young men involved. That adds up to a very big case for the FBI.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yeah, that's 20 young men who just went to Somalia, which is a remarkable number for a terrorism case in this country. And there's been sort of a drip, drip effect in terms of arrests. I mean, so far, 14 people have been charged with material support to a terrorist organization, essentially helping these 20 kids get to Somalia.
There are four people in custody in the U.S., and there is someone in custody in the Netherlands, and the FBI is working on his extradition. And I expect he'll be here in this country pretty soon this year.
KELLY: And the latest charges that the FBI filed were just in November. Are they anywhere near to actually wrapping up this case?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, there are lots more arrests expected in 2010...more..http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122198546