MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA— U.S. law enforcement officials say preventing Somali Americans from aiding the terrorist organization al-Shabab continues to be its top priority in Minnesota, where the largest Somali community in the United States resides.
The FBI said it will not comment at this time on its active investigation into the al-Shabab terrorist group's attack on Nairobi's Westgate Mall and whether any Somali Americans were involved.
But for FBI agents in Minneapolis, combating al-Shabab's efforts to radicalize Somali Americans has been the top priority for years. Kyle Loven is the chief division counsel for the region. “We have individuals who have purportedly [been] going over to fight on behalf of a foreign terrorist organization which has been so designated by the state department," he noted. "So that is a violation of federal law and we've had some convictions here in the last couple of years.”
More than 20 young Somali Americans have travelled to Somalia to fight for the terrorist group. Some were killed overseas. Some returned and were convicted of aiding a terrorist organization and sentenced to between 3 and 20 years. Loven said the FBI is intent on ending the terrorist ties between Somalia and Minnesota.
“We want to discover who is radicalizing these young men, facilitators, where the money is coming from, and try to disrupt this pipeline of young Somali men. That is the aim of this investigation,” Loven said.
Anders Folk, former assistant U.S. attorney for Minnesota said counter-terrorism is also a main focus. “In terms of the number of cases prosecuted and in terms of the number of defendants convicted, it is the most extensive counter terrorism investigation that Minneapolis has seen,” he said.
He said the Islamic militant organization indoctrinates disaffected Muslim youths in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul to recruit friends to wage jihad against enemies of Islam.
“Al-Shabab used peer to peer recruiting in the twin cities, that it used individuals who once they left Minnesota and joined the organization in Somalia, those individuals reached back to their friends and family in the twin cities,” Folk explained.
Folk said law enforcement and moderate Somalis have reduced the influence of al-Shabab, but the group is still trying to reach out to at-risk Somali men in Minnesota.