Republican U.S. Representative Peter King of New York says the Somalia-based terror group al-Shabab has recruited more Americans than al-Qaida to carry out attacks. King held the third in a series of controversial hearings on the threat posed to the United States by Islamic radicalization in the Muslim American community.
King said that al-Shabab, which operates out of famine-stricken Somalia, poses a serious threat to U.S. national security.
"Al-Shabab has successfully recruited and radicalized more than 40 Muslim Americans and 20 Canadians who have joined the terror group inside Somalia," said King.
Focus on Minnesota
Most of those recruited were Somali Americans living in the midwestern state of Minnesota. King said al-Shabab’s recruitment campaign is increasing the chances the group will strike outside of the Horn of Africa, possibly against the United States. King, who heads the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, said the committee has learned that at least 15 Americans and three Canadians have died fighting in Somalia with al-Shabab.
The ranking Democrat member on the committee, Bennie Thompson, said that so far, al-Shabab has not targeted the United States or U.S. interests abroad, and that most of those recruited in North America carried out terrorist attacks against other Muslims in Somalia. He also referred to the alleged domestic terrorist attack last week in Norway.
"This lone wolf extremist killed nearly 80 people in his anti-Islamic fervor," said Thompson. "It is too early to say what the people of Norway will take from this horrific national tragedy. But for me, this incident makes plain that the madness of terrorism cannot be neatly confined to any one religion, one people or one nation."
Guilt by association
Critics of King's hearings say they unfairly target Muslims and result in guilt by association for the Muslim community in America. Several Democrats on the committee said Congress should investigate a broad spectrum of domestic terrorist threats, including anti-government hate groups and white supremacists. No current federal officials have testified at the hearings.
King strongly rejected the criticism, saying the tragedy in Norway had nothing to do with the focus of the hearings.
"I will not back down from holding these hearings," he said. "I will continue to hold these hearings so long as I am the chairman of this committee."
One of the witnesses at the hearing, Ahmed Hussen of the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security in Canada, backed King on the value of the hearings for law-abiding Muslim Americans and Canadians.
"I would like to close by saying that these hearings are extremely important to us; they empower us and they remove the stigma in our community that prevents us from talking about these issues that are really important to our community," said Hussen.
Another witness, William Folk, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the northern state of Minnesota, said he shares King's concerns about al-Shabab.
"Its activities have included, but are not limited to, suicide bombings in Somalia, suicide bombings in Uganda - killing hundreds of innocent people," said Folk. "The senseless and extreme acts of violence that we have seen them perpetrate include stoning innocent people in Somalia - teenage girls - cutting the hands and feet of thieves in Somalia."
The final witness before the committee was Tom Smith, the chief of police for St. Paul, Minnesota. He said his precinct has had great success in reaching out to the large Somali American community in his city, working in small groups with teens and women, and that integration into society is the key to making young people less vulnerable to recruitment by terrorists.