So while Al-Shabab had originally recruited fighters from North America, Europe and the Middle East as part of its holy war against the TFG, now finding itself committed to a global jihad, it began an intensive campaign to recruit Somali-Americans to take the fight to the United States. For Al-Shabab, Somali communities in the United States proved to be very fertile recruiting grounds.
These Somali communities, which cover all corners of the United States, are composed primarily of refugees who have been escaping the ongoing civil wars that began in Somalia since 1991 with the ouster of then President Mohamed Siad Barre, conflicts which have gone on unabated ever since.
While most Somalis have earned a reputation as law-abiding and patriotic members of the American community, in a population that has swelled from 35,000 in 2000 to upwards of 150,000 today, there are still a number who feel culturally disconnected, making them ever susceptible to the lure of outside jihadist forces.
As Thomas Mockaitis explains, “Many of these people are in fact the children of refugees. They were probably born in Somalia or born soon after they [i.e., their mothers] came to the United States. And they are not particularly in touch with their parents. And yet, neither are they particularly attracted to or accepted by mainstream American culture. So there is this kind of double alienation that makes them particularly prone to recruitment.”
One of the most common recruitment methods used by Al-Shabab is through the use of internet videos to promote their cause in an effort to reach young men who might never have traveled to Somalia.
One of the first such videos released by Al-Shabab was in March 2009 and featured an English speaking Somali from Alabama, Omar Hammami, who urged its viewers to “come and live the life of a muhajid,” adding for emphasis, “We’re calling all the brothers oversees, all the Shabab, wherever they are, to come and live the life of the mujahid. They will see with their own eyes, and they will love it.”
The effects of these and other recruitment efforts have had some nasty net effects. Most noteworthy was in 2009 when over 20 Somali youth, most from the Minneapolis area, home to the largest concentration of Somalian refugees in the United States, went overseas to fight for Al-Shabab.
While some of that group has been reported killed in the fighting in Somalia, at least six are known to have returned to the United States, presumably to continue with recruitment efforts. In fact, American-Somalis make particularly good recruiters as they can use their American passports to travel relatively freely and easily.
Still, despite their efforts at developing homegrown American terrorists, Al-Shabab has not refrained from attempting to infiltrate its own members into the United States through the porous US-Mexico border, with some estimates as high as 300 Al-Shabab members having safely made it through.
Unfortunately, even those Somalis who have been detained didn’t stay jailed for long. This unfortunate fact was seen in the release of a confidential report that showed Mexican officials in January 2010 to have mistakenly released 23 Somali men shortly after they had been taken into custody, most of whom U.S. officials suspected as having strong ties to Al-Shabab.
The commitment of al-Shabab to promote jihad both in and outside of Somalia has been so successful that according to Chris Harnisch of the American Enterprise Institute, “Al-Shabab is right now one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world.”
Of course, for Americans, the only danger to date so far posed by Al-Shabab has been limited to the preventative arrests of some terrorist wannabes. Unfortunately, Al-Shabab still has plenty of willing candidates lined up to take their place.
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