Prosecutors in Minneapolis say they have charged eight men with recruiting young Somali-Americans and sending them to Somalia to fight with an anti-government insurgency force linked to al-Qa'ida. In head-count terms, it is the largest terror cell to emerge in the US since the 9/11 attacks.
The charges stem from a long-running investigation by the FBI in Minneapolis, the largest city in the state of Minnesota, which is home to a thriving Somali-American community. Officials believe that as many as 20 men may have been sent to Somalia in this way. In 2008, a naturalised US citizen, Shirwa Ahed, blew himself up in northern Somalia. It was believed to be the first time that an American citizen had carried out a terrorist suicide bombing.
While the alleged recruitment drive appears aimed at assisting the insurgency in Somalia, officials fear that once they have received terrorist training there, many of the men may return to carry out similar attacks on American soil. "The potential implications for national security are significant," said Ralph Boelter of the FBI.
The men were allegedly being sent to fight alongside Al-Shabaab, a terror group closely allied with al-Qa'ida. "The vibrant Somali community here in Minneapolis has lost many of its sons to fighting in Somalia. These young men have been recruited to fight in a foreign war by individuals and groups using violence against government troops and civilians," said Todd Jones, the US Attorney for Minnesota.
The investigation intensified after a group of youths were stopped by traffic police in Nevada on 6 October. They said they were travelling to a wedding in San Diego. They were later tracked by customs officers entering Mexico. They had airline tickets out of the border city of Tijuana to Mexico City and they are now believed to be in Somalia.
In total, 14 men have been charged in connection with the case; some have been arrested, others are still at large. Those named in the latest criminal complaints include Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax and Abdiweli Yassin Isse, who are among those who made the trip last month via Mexico. They are charged with conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim and injure individuals outside the US.
"Faarax told the co-conspirators that travelling to Somalia to fight jihad will be fun and not to be afraid," according to an FBI affidavit in the case. "Faarax also explained to his co-conspirators that they would get to shoot guns in Somalia."