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Jihadi groups do not have to be "winning" to attract volunteers. The opposite is often true and proved to be the case in Chechyna, Afghanistan, the Phillipines and other long running insurgencies. Those volunteers often return home and recruit others.
A new report from the Department of Homeland Security provides the U.S. perspective on threats from within and without. With respect to Somalia, one of the biggest concerns is the number of Somali-Americans who have left the United States and sought training overseas - specifically in Somalia.
An earlier report released in July focused specifically on the potential threat posed by these recruits. The report states:
Shabaab has an active recruitment and radicalization network inside the U.S. targeting Muslim-Americans in Somali communities. It also ensnared a few non-Somali Muslim-American converts, such as a top Shabaab commander:
At least 40 or more Americans have joined Shabaab;
So many Americans have joined that at least 15 of them have been killed fighting with Shabaab, as well as three Canadians;
Three Americans who returned to the U.S. were prosecuted, and one awaits extradition from The Netherlands;
At least 21 or more American Shabaab members overseas remain unaccounted for and pose a direct threat to the U.S. homeland.
The latest report "Homegrown Terrorism: The Threat To Military Communities Inside The United State" brings Somalia into the spotlight along with the more traditional training grounds of Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
August 2009 Betim Kaziu foreign fighter plot involved a U.S. citizen from Brooklyn, New York, Kaziu, who was convicted on charges of attempting to join Al Qaeda-linked groups. In February 2009, Kaziu and U.S. citizen Sulejah Hadzovic traveled to Cairo, Egypt, where they unsuccessfully attempted to join either the Somali extremist group al-Shabaab or other terrorist organizations in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan for the purpose of killing U.S. troops.
November 2010 Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a naturalized US citizen of Somali descent, is alleged to have contemplated travelling to Pakistan to engage in terrorist activity targeting U.S. military forces. Ultimately, Osman was arrested after attempting to blow up a van filled with explosives at a Christmas tree lighting in Portland, Oregon.
The report focuses on a number of threats to U.S. Forces but also reminds us that the impact of al Qaeda and al Shabaab has been dramatically shrinking overseas as their movement, support network and capabilities are diminished daily.
Americans in Somalia
The first American volunteers left the U.S. in late 2007, most of the from the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in Minneapolis. Their families came to America to escape the fighting that erupted after the government fell only to see their sons return to join the fighting. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates Somali-Americans to represent 31 percent of the 57 Americans charged or convicted of Islamic terrorism crimes in the United States and abroad since January 2009. Al-Shabaab wants American and other foreign passport holders because they give them a global reach. Minnesotan, Shirwa Ahmed, was the first American to blow himself up killing 22 people in October 2008. Abdisalam Hussein Ali, a former University of Minnesota pre-med student detonated himself murdering AMISOM soldiers in Mogadishu.
Women are also targeted. In April 2011, Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, Somali women from Minnesota, were indicted for raising funds for al-Shabaab using false means. Both women have been charged with raising funds for al-Shabaab through fraudulent appeals to the Somali community in which they requested funds they said were intended for humanitarian purposes, but which were instead transmitted to al-Shabaab in Somalia.
In March of 2009, Osama bin Laden called upon Somalis in an 11 and half minute tape saying, "You are the first line of defense for the Islamic world in its southwestern part; and your patience and resolve supports your brothers in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Islamic Maghreb, Pakistan and the rest of the fields of Jihad."
Almost on cue in April, Omar Hammami, aka Abu Mansur al-Amriki appeared as the rapping jihadi.
Included in this group are 14 Somali-Americans from Alabama, California and Illinois who were arrested for providing material support to al-Shabaab in August 2010; four Somali-Americans from San Diego, arrested on similar charges in November 2010; and Somali college student Mohamed Osman Mohamud, arrested for a failed attempt to blow up a van full of dummy explosives in Oregon in November 2010.
Americans have always been a part of al Qaeda but never in such numbers. Al Qaida's new chief of operations is Adnan El-Shukrijumah, a computer engineer from Miramar, California. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed lived for a time in the U.S. and formulated the 9/11 attacks. Anwar al-Awlaki, a native of New Mexico was killed in Yemen along with the publisher of "Inspire" Samir Khan, a resident of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Adam Gadahn, a California native, is an al Qaida translator and propagandist appeared on an al Qaida videotape threatening to carry out attacks against the United States that would far surpass those of 9/11. Up or down?
Are these two incidents an upward or downward trend? British intelligence estimates that there at least 100 British passport holders training in Somalia with an estimated 40 active there now. Canada estimates that at least 20 of its citizens left to join al Shabaab. Other than American, Omar Hammami who has been promoted as Sheik Robow's sidekick and potential executive material, most of these foreigners are considered "cannon fodder" or suicide volunteers.
The major concern is not that they will get killed overseas but that they may return and wreak havoc with their foriegn passports and ease of passage. There is also deep concern that al-Shabaab may be more competent as a recruitment group in major centers where there are large numbers of disaffected Somali diaspora youth.
There was a time that Saudi Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, American Anwar al Awlaki in Yemen and Comoron Fazul Abdullah Mohammed in Kenya were the holy trinity of terror in the region. Al-Shabaab controlled Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia creating the very really threat that Somalia would mimic the taliban in late 90's Afghanistan. But two years later al Shabaab is simply a group out of time and out of place. Not wanted by the locals and harassed by Ethiopian, Kenyan, Somali and foreign elements. Some al Qaeda friendly leaders like Mukhtar Robow Abu Manssor have their wife and children living and attending school in the UAE. Moktar Ali Zubeyr "Godane" was last seen traveling through Dubai and Fuad Mohamed Qalaf "Shangole" has been remarkably quiet. Colonel turned terrorist, Hassan Dahir Aweys occasionally maintains a presence but has few military accomplishments to brag about. All men are targets selected for U.S assassination inside Somalia but not likely to be hindered in the UAE, Kenya or outside nation.
The disorganized and underfunded al-Shabaab still makes boastful claims and launches sporadic suicide attacks, but without some significant support from the battered population they have no future. Despite this internal failure, as recently as October two British citizens were caught trying to cross into Somalia.
This actually increased the danger of trained foreigners being sent abroad to conduct attacks, but the "base" that once supported an international terrorism exchange and training program no longer exists.