Somali-Americans in Minnesota expressed anger and frustration Wednesday after unconfirmed reports that people from their local community may have been involved in the attack on a Kenyan shopping mall that killed at least 67 people. The ability of a Somalia-based Islamic militant group to recruit young Americans has been a long-standing concern.
Ka Joog, a Somali-American youth group, called a news conference in Minneapolis to condemn the al-Shabab terrorist group for its attack on Nairobi's Westgate Mall and the killing of innocent civilians.
Reports that some of the attackers were from Minnesota have not been confirmed. But since 2007, between 20 and 40 ethnic Somali-Americans have joined al-Shabab in Somalia, some of them dying there, according to U.S. authorities.
Ka Joog leader Mohamed Farah said the vast majority of Somalis in Minnesota and around the world do not support terrorism.
“Every community has their own bad apples in it. And so, but you know we got to make sure we don't torture the image of the great Somalis that reside across the globe,” he said.
Abdirizak Bihi, director of a Somali advocacy center in Minneapolis, said his nephew Burhan Hassan was recruited by al-Shabab in a local mosque in 2008.
“He was one of the young men that has been brainwashed, radicalized and then helped to leave the country to join al Shabaab,” Bihi explained, adding that the group targets vulnerable Somalis who feel marginalized in U.S. society. Bihi said after his nephew joined, his family alerted authorities to the danger al-Shabab posed.
“We shocked al-Shabab by standing up to them and organizing all other families and continued to make a case to the U.S. government and the international community that there is a big problem over there that followed us here,” Bihi said.
Since then, there have been successful efforts to engage young people to counter-terrorist recruitment in the area, he said. But it is too late for Bihi's nephew, who died in Somalia in 2009.