While it is still unknown whether Somali-Americans were involved in the recent deadly attack by al-Shabab on a Kenyan shopping mall, it is known that the large Somali community in the U.S. state of Minnesota has been fertile ground for recruitment by the terrorist group. Many young Somali men in the U.S. are torn between two cultures, leaving some susceptible to religious and patriotic appeals from the Islamist militant group.
Hashim Yonis has embraced life in America and is running for the post of Park Board and Recreation Commissioner in Minneapolis. And he is mentoring other young Somali men to help them overcome a sense of alienation that many in his generation feel.
“My generation, I call them the lost generation. They are not part of the traditional Somalia. They are not part of, 100 percent, so they basically have their one foot on the America side, the Western side and the other one back home," said Yonis.
Many young Somali men are the children of refugees who fled the long civil war in their country and are having difficulty assimilating into American life. Some drop out of school, can’t find a job or get involved in gangs.
Nimco Ahmed, a Somali activist who works for the Minneapolis City Council, says the war and resettlement has fractured the traditional family structure.
“Most of our fathers are either not here or not in the country or dead pretty much. So not having a father figure for boys has been a struggle for us. And it is still a struggle for us," said Ahmed.
Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia in 2007 was viewed by some Somalis as a violation of Somali sovereignty even though the troops intervened at the request of the transitional Somali government and with the backing of the African Union and the U.S.
Using a mixture of religion, nationalism and what some say is deception, the Islamist militant group al-Shabab has recruited at least 20 Somali-Americans to fight against foreign troops in Somalia.
Hussein Egal voices a minority opinion in the Somali community about the intentions of those who joined al Shabab were admirable.
“So we are not talking about the root cause, what caused these people to go back, ostensibly to defend the dignity and the sovereignty of a nation that is being destroyed," he said.
But the majority opinion is that al-Shabab manipulates disaffected youth. Yonis and other leaders are trying to counter the appeal of terrorist groups abroad by advocating for improved education and opportunities to allow more Somalis to better integrate into American society.