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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And we're going to here now about the phenomenon of homegrown terrorism. About 20 Somali-American boys have disappeared from their homes in Minneapolis. They are believed to have traveled to Somalia to join a terrorist group there. NPR first reported this story in January. And today, law enforcement officials told Congress how they think the boys are recruited and what threat they might pose to the United States.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has the story.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: A young Somali-American named Shirwa Ahmed left Minneapolis about 18 months ago to go fight for an Islamic militia in Somalia called al-Shabab. Last October, he drove a car full of explosives into a crowd in Somaliland. He killed 27 people. His story represents what American counterterrorism officials fear might happen. Andrew Liepman is the deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

Mr. ANDREW LIEPMAN (Deputy Director, National Counterterrorism Center): We do worry that there is a potential that these individuals could be indoctrinated by al-Qaida, while they're in Somalia, and then return to the United States, with the intention to conduct attacks. They would, in fact, provide al-Qaida with trained extremists inside the United States.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Liepman was speaking before a Senate committee on homeland security today. The disappearance of at least 20 young men from Minneapolis comes at a time when counterterrorism officials are watching the growing alliance between al-Shabab and al-Qaida. One of the questions at today's hearing was whether the young men going to Somalia were actually being recruited by the Somali terror group. Senator Joseph Lieberman suggested as much.

Senator JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): 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 (Federal Bureau of Investigation): I think that's fair.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The man who answered that question is Philip Mudd of the FBI. And that was the first time the bureau admitted that recruiters operate in Minneapolis. Mudd outlined how the bureau thinks the recruitment happens.

Mr. MUDD: I don't see people out there saying, man, can we have another ten Americans? So I think it's a simple story of people saying, I either want to fight for my country, or I want to go live in a different social or religious environment - relatively inexpensive to get there. Not people at the other end saying, I wish I had more Americans. In fact, in some cases, the Americans can be a security risk for them.

TEMPLE-RASTON: A security risk because the young men coming from the States arrive in the middle of Somalia's civil war, armed with little more than their faith and a desire to help. Again, the FBI's Philip Mudd.

Mr. MUDD: Some get there and become cannon fodder. These folks aren't going over there to become part of terrorist cells. A lot of them are being put on the front line and some of them, I think, have been killed on the front line from the United States. And lastly, some are going over there saying, whoa, this is a serious war, there's serious lead flying. And they sort of lie, cheat and steal their way to get back because they're in an environment where they say, I can't take this.

TEMPLE-RASTON: For counterterrorism officials, the question is, which is it? Will these young men come back as terrorists or might some of them simply try to get out of Somalia alive?

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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