FBI Charges 8 In Missing Somalis Probe
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Federal investigators are moving against what they see as a threat closer to home. They filed charges, yesterday, against eight Minnesota men. They are accused of recruiting young Somali Americans for terror operations in East Africa.
NPR's Dina Temple-Raston is here with the latest. Dina, Good morning.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Good morning.
INSKEEP: What does it mean that the FBI implicated eight people on top of the six they had already arrested here?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, this means that this is a really big operation. As a general matter, if you look at terrorism cases in this country, usually they involve just a handful of people. But this is the biggest domestic terrorism investigation in the U.S. since the 9/11 attacks. And the FBI says it isn't even finished yet. And there's a matter of these Minneapolis Somalis who are still in Somalia, who are perhaps still fighting. Those people could be arrested. And officials say there could be other recruiters and financiers, for example, out there that they arrest.
INSKEEP: How - how did this recruitment work?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, we only have little clues as to how it worked. But in the charging documents that they released yesterday, or unsealed yesterday, they claimed that all this started when the young men would get together to talk about politics and the Ethiopian invasion in Somalia. And a cooperating witness to the FBI says he and other men met in a Minneapolis mosque in 2007, and the men started making phone calls to contacts in Somalia, essentially offering up their services.
Then there was a lot of discussion on how they could prove that they were good Muslims and good Somalis by fighting the jihad in Somalia. And, to be honest, this is pretty standard fare for recruiting for jihad in the United States.
INSKEEP: Although a lot of these come to nothing, but in this case there's a couple dozen young men who actually went to Somalia.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly, and 14 people arrested so far. Now, the big concern here is that this recruitment effort seemed to be so effective. The big worry is that this is America's first jihadi pipeline, a type of underground railway, to the battlefield.
I spoke to Ralph Bolter, who's the FBI special agent in charge in Minneapolis about how unusual this case is for U.S. investigators, and here's what he said.
Mr. RALPH BOLTER (FBI Special Agent in Charge, Minneapolis): By numbers and by the character of the offenses - folks in the United States traveling to a foreign country to attend a terrorist camp, by al-Shabab in this case; some of them actually engaging in hostilities on behalf of al-Shabab. This is a unique case in the United States. We haven't seen anything quite like this before.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Now, the U.K. has had this kind of problem for a long time, in which, you know, immigrants from the U.K. are being funneled to battlefields overseas. But this is the first time we've seen this sort of thing in this country.
INSKEEP: I want to ask one other thing, Dina Temple-Raston, 'cause we're talking about recruiting people to fight in Somalia. We should note, Somalia is a country full of Muslims, many of them poor young men who presumably might be open to some kind of recruiting pitch. What makes it valuable for these groups to go to the trouble of recruiting people from the United States?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, and in particular Minnesota, which is the largest Somali community in this country. One of the big things is money. These recruits can pay for their own way there, they can pay for their own AK-47s and they can pay just to even be trained. And the Somali community in the U.S. is one of the communities that intelligence officials really worry about, 'cause they tend to be less integrated than other immigrant communities, they tend to be poorer as a group, they keep tabs on the political process in Somalia really closely, and really don't get involved with the political process here.
And in this case - you know, we've been reporting this for a while - this is a case in which a lot of the young men who left were in households headed by women, so the recruiters had a better opportunity to influence the young men.
INSKEEP: Dina, thanks very much.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston.