Leaders of the nation’s largest Somali community say some of their young men are still being enticed to join the terror group that has claimed responsibility for the deadly mall attack in Kenya, despite a concentrated effort to shut off what authorities call a “deadly pipeline” of men and money.
Six years have passed since Somali-US fighters began leaving Minnesota to become part of al-Shabaab. Now the Somali community is dismayed over reports that a few of its own might have been involved in the violence at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
“One thing I know is the fear is growing,” said Abdirizak Bihi, whose nephew was among at least six men from Minnesota who have died in Somalia. More are presumed dead.
Since 2007, at least 22 young men have left Minnesota to join al-Shabaab, as well as two women last summer. Unconfirmed reports that two more left this month have deepened concerns. Minnesota’s Somali community, concentrated in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, includes people who fled the long civil war in their east African homeland and children born in the US Many are now American citizens.
Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta, said on Tuesday that initial reports had suggested three US citizens may have been involved in the attack. But neither Kenyan authorities nor the Minneapolis FBI office had any confirmation.
The movement of Somalis who have come to be known as “travellers” remains “a priority investigation for the Minneapolis office,” FBI Special Agent Kyle Loven said. At least 18 men and three women have been charged in the ongoing Minnesota investigation. Some went to Somalia while others were accused of aiding the effort mainly by raising money. Seven men pleaded guilty to various charges. One man was convicted on terrorism-related charges last year. Two women were convicted in 2011 of fund-raising for al-Shabaab.
The group uses a mixture of religion, nationalism and deception to lure young people, said Omar Jamal, a local activist who serves as the first secretary for the Somali mission to the United Nations. “They misinform people, and target young, impressionable kids,” he said. “They literally brainwash them. It’s a very dangerous cult.”