In Washington, a Senate committee held
a hearing Wednesday on Somalia, in particular, recruiting in America by the
Islamist Somali militant group al-Shabaab. The US government has declared al-Shabaab
a terrorist organization.
Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Committee, opened the hearing, saying, "Today, we are going to focus on what
appears to me to be the most significant case of home grown American terrorism,
recruiting based on violent Islamist ideology. The facts, as we know them, tell
us that over the last two years, individuals from the Somali community in the
United States, including American citizens, have left for Somalia to support
and in some cases fight on behalf of al-Shabaab."
says there are "ideological, tactical financial and also personnel links
between al-Shabaab and al Qaida." He says the militia sheltered some of those
"responsible for the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania." The Connecticut
senator says even the al-Qaida second-in-command has praised al-Shabaab and
called for its support.
describes recruiting of a Somali-American with tragic consequences. "In the
most graphic and deadly example of a direct connection between the
Somali-American community and international terrorism, Shirwac Ahmed, a
naturalized United States citizen, living in the Minneapolis (Minnesota) area,
returned to Somalia within the last two year and killed himself and many others
in a suicide bombing last October."
FBI says Ahmed was "radicalized in Minnesota." Lieberman says, "He's probably
the first US citizen to carry out a terrorist suicide bombing."
those testifying at Wednesday's committee hearing was Andrew Liepman, deputy
director for intelligence at the National Counterterrorism Center, who says,
"Let me stress, we don't have a body of reporting that indicates US persons who
have traveled to Somalia are planning to execute attacks in the United States.…
But we do worry that there is a potential that these individuals could be
indoctrinated by al-Qaida while they're in Somalia and then returned to the
United States with the intention to conduct attacks. They would In fact provide
al-Qaida with trained extremists inside the United States."
says that terrorist recruiters seek young Somalis believed to be despondent and
extremist recruiters target these individuals, who lack structure and
definition in their lives. The recruiters subject them to religiously inspired
indoctrination to move them towards violent extremism. They target vulnerable
young men, many of them refugees, who came here as small children or who are
the children of immigrants."
says these young Somalis may be "torn between their parents' traditional ethnic
tribal and clan identities and the new cultures and traditions offered by
says that "isolation, marginalization, perceived discrimination and frustrated
expectations" contribute to the Somali-American community being more
Liepman adds, "Let me stress…we are not witnessing a community-wide
radicalization among Somali-Americans. When I speak of the Somali-American
community I don't mean to generalize."
expert Ken Menkhaus of Davidson College also testified, saying al-Shabaab may
have hit its "high water mark in 2008" in battling the recent Ethiopian
occupation in Somalia. "In the eyes of most Somalis," he says, "Shabaab was a
legitimate national resistance to a foreign occupation. Shabaab was seen by
many Somalis as freedom fighters, not terrorists, even by Somalis who found
their radical policies appalling and their rumored links to al-Qaida very
has said it would target American interests, following direct US attacks on its
leadership. It's considered the most powerful armed group in Somalia.
Menkhaus says, "Recent developments are working against Shabaab." These include
the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops, the resignation of an unpopular president
and the Djibouti peace accord. This has led to a greater voice from moderates.
Menkhaus says, "Shabaab has been deprived of its major raison d'etre and now
faces growing resistance from Somali militias allied with the new unity
government. Shabaab also faces internal divisions, including tensions between
hardcore members and those who joined the cause mainly to rid their country of
a foreign occupation. Put another way, not all Shabaab members are committed
jihadists, making it problematic to label the entire group terrorists," he
says there is such a strong link now between Somalis in Somalia and those in
the Diaspora that "extensive travel to Somalia and financial and other
interactions by Somali-Americans with their home country should not constitute,
therefore, a high risk profile."
Menkhaus says there are more than
enough young armed men available for recruits in Somalia itself, without
al-Shabaab recruiting in the United States. But he says there are other
reasons, such as Somali-Americans' familiarity with computers and the Internet.
He also says a "young Diaspora recruit is upon arrival in Somalia entirely cut
off socially and therefore, in theory, easier to isolate, indoctrinate and control
for the purpose of executing suicide bombings. Were this not the case it would
be much less risky and expensive for Shabaab to simply recruit locals."