ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA - It is difficult for Goth Ali to believe the man he sees in shaky and grainy social media videos is the same one he has known for almost a decade - Abdirahmaan Muhumed.
“One of my friends told me, 'hey - Abdirahmaan is fighting in Syria,'” he said. “I said, "what?! I thought he [was] going to Ethiopia and fighting.'”
Ali and the large Somali American community in Minnesota are coming to terms with news that one of their own may be the second American to die while fighting on the side of Islamic State militants.
Reports of Americans fighting for the group have raised concerns about the radicalization and recruitment of young men from immigrant communities throughout the United States, and particularly those in the large Somali American community in Minnesota.
“When I hear the news I was shocked,” Ali said. “And everybody was shocked. The entire East Africa community and all the Somali was shocked by that guy.”
Ali says the father of nine left his family behind, and according to posts on his Facebook page - which Goth Ali believes are Muhumed’s - he resurfaced earlier this year in the Middle East, brandishing weapons and issuing a call for others to join him in jihad.
Minnesota Public Radio profiled Muhumed in a report in June, and through a series of Facebook messages with the radio station, he confirmed he was fighting with Islamic State militants.
Muhumed’s case is similar to that of Abdi Mohamud Nur, another Somali American from Minnesota believed to be fighting in Iraq and Syria. His sister Ifrah told Voice of America earlier this year she received a text message from him indicating he planned to join the jihad.
Muhumed and Nur are among a number of ethnic Somali men from Minnesota who have left to join the conflict in Syria and Iraq, countries where they don't typically have family connections.
They are believed to be part of a larger investigation by the FBI’s field office in Minneapolis. Supervisory Special Agent E.K. Wilson, who did not talk about specific cases, says the issue is a significant concern and top priority for his agency. Wilson believes material on the Internet is a big recruiting tool attracting young men to fight. “It has made the radicalization process change over time,” he says. “It has created more opportunities for self-radicalization. There’s a lot of material on the Internet.”
Goth Ali and others in the Somali community agree. “I don’t believe the recruiting thing is going on in Minnesota or the United States. Actually the recruiting is coming from the YouTube.”
Wilson says the FBI is highlighting a message that joining an armed conflict overseas may be illegal, and potentially deadly. “This isn’t an adventure,” he explained. “This isn’t a righteous cause. It isn’t fun. It’s not something you are going to do with your friends and come home when you are tired of it. It is a dangerous proposition.”
U.S. officials have not publicly confirmed Muhumed’s death, but a local TV station reports the man’s family has been notified that he died in Syria.
But Goth Ali wants more proof.
“We don’t have actually evidence, and I haven’t seen somebody like the U.S. State Department say we have evidence like a DNA test or pictures.”
Until that evidence comes, Ali says he waits for another message, another video that might show his friend is still alive.