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US officials: Terror concern over Midwest Somalis

US officials: Terror concern over Midwest Somalis

An expected merger between al-Qaida and an East African terror group that has recruited young Somali men from the state of Minnesota could increase the danger to the U.S., counterterrorism officials told Congress Wednesday.
But they said that it will likely take a while for the Somalia-based al-Shabab to extend its focus beyond its own country and mirror al-Qaida's global jihadist views.
Andrew Liepman, deputy director of intelligence at the National Counterterrorism Center, said that so far, the young Somali-American teens who disappeared from their homes in the Minneapolis region and lured back to Somalia to fight are more likely being used as "cannon fodder" on the front lines there. And it does not yet appear that they are being recruited and trained to travel back to the U.S. to set up sleeper cells for potential future attacks.
Both he and J. Philip Mudd, a senior FBI official, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, however, that counterterrorism officials are watching the situation very closely, because of al-Qaida's potential influence on al-Shabab.
On Tuesday, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Maples told senators that al-Shabab is poised to formally merge with al-Qaida, strengthening al-Qaida's foothold in East Africa. Asked about that assertion on Wednesday, Mudd said a merger doesn't necessarily mean that al-Qaida would immediately gain control of al-Shabab's operations.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent, said he understands that U.S. authorities are investigating the recruitment of the young men in Minneapolis, "which may result in the arrest of several individuals" for radicalizing the teens. Mudd would only say that the investigation is ongoing.
Lieberman and other panel members pressed authorities for their assessment of the threat to the U.S. that the recruiting brings, including the prospects of the youth returning to wage attacks.
Mudd said he believes the number of Somali recruits from the U.S. is in the "tens," and officials noted that other Americans have also gone over to Somalia to join the fight there.
The State Department considers al-Shabab a terrorist organization, with growing links to al-Qaida, something the group denies. Al-Shabab, which means "The Youth," has been gaining ground as Somalia's Western-backed government crumbles. The group's goal is to establish an Islamic state in Somalia.
Officials also told the panel that recent changes in Somalia, including the departure of Ethiopian forces from Mogadishu after two years, may dilute al-Shabab's insurgency there by removing one of their key rallying points.
Late last year, a young Somali man who had left Minneapolis, became a suicide bomber. He detonated a bomb he was wearing, as part of a series of coordinated attacks targeting a U.N. compound, the Ethiopian consulate and the presidential palace in Somaliland's capital, Hargeisa. It was the first known time a U.S. citizen was a suicide bomber.
Osman Ahmed's nephew was one of the other recruits lured away from Minnesota. And Ahmed told the senators Wednesday that he blamed the high school student's departure in part on a local mosque.
He said his nephew, Burhan Hassan, was just eight months old when he left his Somali homeland, traveling first to a refugee camp in Kenya before settling in Minnesota with his mother. Hassan, he said, was a good student and was taking calculus and chemistry in his senior year at Roosevelt High School and studying Islam at the nearby Abu-Bakar As-Saddique mosque.
Ahmed said others who disappeared also went to the mosque.
"It is the dream of every Somali parent to have their children go to the mosque but none of them expected to have their children's mind programmed in a manner that is in line with the extremist's ideologies," he said.
According to Ahmed, information the families have gotten back from people in Somalia suggests the teens are lured back with notions of Islamic utopia. When they arrive, he said, they are whisked to military camps, and are told that if they try to return to the U.S. they will end up in the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.
The counterterrorism officials stressed that they are not seeing a widespread radicalization of Somali-Americans _ many of whom fled the violence in their homeland. Many, they said, are single mothers struggling to raise their families and fit in despite language and cultural hurdles.
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On the Net:
http://www.nctc.gov/


Updated : 2021-06-18 05:34 GMT+08:00