Probing The Somali-Minneapolis Terrorist Axis

Senior U.S. counterterrorism officials tell a Senate hearing that al-Shabab, an East Africa-based terrorist group, is working to recruit young Somalis from around Minneapolis. What are the connections between al-Shabab and al-Qaida?

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Probing The Somali-Minneapolis Terrorist Axis

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen. Coming up, the romantic notion of the king of the beast versus the reality of living with an animal that eats your livestock and maybe you.

BRAND: But first, the Senate's Homeland Security Committee is holding a hearing today on possible terrorist recruitment in Somali communities here in the United States. Some two dozen young Somali-Americans from Minneapolis have been recruited in the past couple of years. FBI director Robert Mueller has said the young men were radicalized in the U.S. and then went to Somalia to fight in the civil war there. The concern is that the men who have disappeared will someday return to the United States and possibly launch terrorist attacks here. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston broke the story a month and she has details on today's hearing. Dina, tell us have these young Somali-Americans who disappeared gone to Somalia actually to become terrorists?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: No, actually that's more of a concern of what's going to come next. The young men who traveled to Somalia are fighting in the front lines of the civil war there. A lot of them have joined this Islamic militia group called al-Shabab or The Youth. So these young men are actually finding themselves in ambushes, in convoys, setting IEDs, and there is one young man who actually turned out to be a suicide bomber and blew himself up last October. But what they're not necessarily doing is training to figure out how to setup some covert cell in Minneapolis. The FBI's concern is that they're going to come back to the U.S. and maybe morph in that direction, something that could happen in the future.

BRAND: So, what is known about how these young men, who are living in Minneapolis, how are they were recruited to go to Somalia?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, there is one exchange between Senator Lieberman of Connecticut and the FBI Associate Executive, the Assistant Director Philip Mudd this morning that I thought was really telling we have it here. And the first person to speak is Senator Lieberman.

(Soundbite of interview)

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Democrat, Connecticut): Assuming that tens of Somali-Americans have gone to train and presumably, fight with al-Shabab in Somalia. I assume from what you both said that therefore, we can assume that there are recruiters or leaders in the Somali-American community who are responsible, at least in part, for that movement of people. Is that right?

Mr. PHILIP MUDD (Associate Executive Assistant Director, FBI): I think that's fair.

BRAND: So, did I hear correctly that Senator Lieberman said tens of Somali-Americans?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. There is anywhere between 20 and 27 who were missing. Now, that's the first time the FBI has actually admitted publicly that there is some recruiters in Minneapolis. So I think there be some other shoes to drop.

BRAND: And I understand at this hearing to testify will be members of that community, right?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly right. And some of them are actually saying that the local mosques were somehow involved. Although, when we went there reporting over a month ago, we talked to the mosques and they denied having any involvement whatsoever in any of these boys been missing.

BRAND: So, what's next?

TEMPLE-RASTON: So what's next is that the FBI is essentially on the lookout for any of these men maybe coming back into the country. Their passports have been flagged and naturally if they come back, they would want to talk to them about what they've been doing. The Somali community itself is pretty scared if you might imagine. The FBI is still investigating, people are pointing fingers. So, they've all really hunkered down.

BRAND: NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reporting on today's hearing in Washington on Somali-Americans being recruited to go fight in the civil war back in Somalia. Dina, thank you very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're very welcome.

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