New Charges In Somali Terror Case

NPR has learned a federal grand jury in Minneapolis unsealed a roster of indictments Monday charging a handful of men with recruiting young Somali-Americans to fight for a terrorist organization in Somalia. Law enforcement officials revealed details of a more than yearlong investigation into the disappearance of some two dozen young Somalis from the Twin Cities area.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And now a new development in the story we've been following. It's about the disappearance of more than two dozen young Somali-Americans from Minneapolis. We first reported on them back in January. The FBI says the young men were recruited in the U.S. and then traveled to Somalia. There they began fighting alongside a terrorist group called al-Shabab.

The FBI has been investigating for almost a year and, today, revealed new details about that investigation. And NPR's Dina Temple-Raston joins us now with the latest. Dina, so, have authorities solved this? Have they found the people who are behind the disappearance of these young men?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they certainly have found some of them. They announced eight more suspects today. But the FBI went to great lengths to say that the investigation is continuing. They now have 14 people either arrested or charged as part of this case. And in a terrorism case in this country, 14 people is a lot.

The FBI said that seven of the suspects are thought to be outside the U.S. One is being held in The Netherlands and is waiting for extradition. He was arrested in The Netherlands last week. And now these are all Somalis with ties to Minneapolis, who've been accused of trying to recruit these Americans to go fight with this group, al-Shabab. Al-Shabab is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations and has some ties to al-Qaida, which is why people are worried about it.

NORRIS: So, those are the suspects in this case. What other details about the investigation did the FBI reveal today?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, this is the first time the FBI has really revealed the breadth of the case. The young men started disappearing about two years ago in 2007. And the FBI says the first group left in December 2007 and apparently the last group left just last month in October 2009. And the terrorism charges that they announced today run the gamut from conspiring to provide financial assistance, to sending recruits to terrorists, to firing AK-47s, which presumably means that they have some people who were inside the al-Shabab training camps doing that.

An official told NPR that they think the suspects are just loosely linked to al-Shabab. Al-Shabab didn't send them here. They just decided on their own to radicalize and recruit and send young men from the U.S. to Somalia to fight with the group. And just some new details include that the FBI said that the suspects met in a Minneapolis mosque and telephoned people in Somalia to offer up Minneapolis Somalis for the fight. That's a new little detail in all of this.

NORRIS: You say the investigation is ongoing. What else are they looking for?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they're being very cagey right now. They wouldn't say. But they are a couple of dozen young Minnesotans who went to Somalia to fight with al-Shabab and presumably they'd be arrested if they came back. Sources told us that there may be more fundraisers and recruiters out there, who will be arrested in the coming weeks as well.

And then the really big worry here is that this recruiting effort has been so successful, I mean, two dozen young men, that it amounts to America's first Jihadi pipeline, a type of underground railroad to a battlefield. And the agent said just even that possibility is what makes this one of the biggest domestic terrorism investigations since 9/11.

NORRIS: Dina, you've headed to the twin cities in the course of reporting on this story. How has the community there been handling the news of this investigation?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, that what's really interesting. Now, this latest news only just came out, you know, not long ago. But cases like this that I've covered, generally the communities are feeling that Muslims in the community have been scapegoated. In this community, they don't feel that way. When they talk about these arrests, they seem to be expressing relief. They're really scared about these recruiters taking their kids and sending them to Somalia.

NORRIS: Dina, thank you very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston.

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8 Charged In Terrorism Probe Of Missing Somalis

Eight people have been charged in connection with the disappearance of young Somali-Americans who allegedly left the U.S. to fight with a terrorist group in Somalia.

A federal judge in Minneapolis unsealed charging documents, which include indictments and criminal complaints, Monday afternoon. Prosecutors allege that the suspects provided financial support to those who traveled to the East African country to fight on behalf of al-Shabab, a group on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. The charges also allege that the men attended al-Shabab terrorist training camps and fought on the group's behalf.

One of the eight named Monday is Mohamud Said Omar, who is being held in the Netherlands.

People close to the investigation said it appears that individuals loosely linked to al-Shabab radicalized, recruited and sent young men from the Somali community in the Twin Cities to Somalia to fight. Five of the Minnesotans have been killed.

Over the past couple of months, six people have been charged with everything from material support for a terrorist organization to financing and recruiting for al-Shabab.

The terrorist group is in the throes of a bloody civil war against the transitional government in Somalia. It has tangential ties to al-Qaida, and some officials believe it has aspirations to take its fight beyond Somalia.

The first group of young men is thought to have left Minneapolis in 2007. Other groups have left since then. The young men, who vanished without a trace, were all fairly good high school or college students being raised by single mothers. The last group left January 20.

Officials worry that this recruiting effort has been so successful that it amounts to America's first jihadi pipeline — a type of underground railway to the battlefield. One agent said that possibility makes this one of the biggest domestic terrorism investigations in this country since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In addition, the push to recruit young men to Somalia has continued. Just last month, a young man named Abdow Abdow was arrested for lying to FBI agents about driving some Somali-Americans from Minneapolis across the country. One of his passengers had his passport and $4,000 in cash. Two others tried to leave the United States through Mexico two days later.

When Abdow was asked about his fellow travelers, he denied they were in the car, the FBI said. Abdow allegedly told the FBI, "I'm talking too much." When he finally admitted to having some passengers in his car, he added, "Whatever those guys are into, I'm not."

Law enforcement officials think that some of the young men in the car were trying to get to Somalia to fight with al-Shabab.

From NPR and wire reports

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