Major New York Times Article on Homegrown Somali Terrorists: Will It Prod Congressional Action?
by Jerry Gordon (July 2009)
After this New York Times article was published, stunning news came in quick succession from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Relative confirms death of Fourth young man from Minnesota in Somalia”, of two more Somali young men murdered in classic ‘coup de grace fashion’ perhaps by their Al Shabaab terrorist masters: 20 year old Jamal Bana and 30 year old Zakaria Maruf. This brings to four such deaths of American Somali young men in Somalia since the fall of 2008. There is reason to believe that there may be several other unaccounted deaths of these American Somali Jihadis. Note this from the Star Tribune report:
For the second time in two days, a Somali man from Minneapolis has been reported killed in his war-torn homeland, a relative confirmed Sunday.
Zakaria Maruf, 30, who is believed to have been among the first wave of young Somali men to leave Minnesota for Somalia over the past two years, was killed Saturday in Mogadishu, the relative said.
Maruf is the fourth Somali man from the Twin Cities to have died in Somalia since October.
The relative said she did not know how Maruf was killed, adding that she learned of his death in a phone conversation with his wife.
On Saturday, the family of Jamal Bana, 20, of Minneapolis, learned that he had been killed in Somalia after seeing a photograph of his body on a Somali news website. Bana had been shot in the head.
FBI spokesman E.K. Wilson said Sunday that he cannot confirm the deaths and could not comment further "due to the ongoing investigation."
For more than a year, federal authorities have been investigating a possible connection between terrorist groups and the disappearances of as many as 20 young Somalis from the Twin Cities over the past two years.
One of those men, Shirwa Ahmed, 26, was killed in a suicide bombing during a series of coordinated attacks in northern Somalia in October. He was the first U.S. citizen known to have carried out a suicide bombing.
A second Minneapolis man, Burhan Hassan, 18, was shot and killed in early June, according to his family. Hassan died a day before his Roosevelt High School classmates graduated.
Maruf had been featured in the New York Times article as a rough young man who went to Somalia and used the internet to extol the virtues of joining the fight for Al Shabaab in war-torn Somalia. Maruf was quoted in a Minneapolis Public Radio story cited by Ann Corcoran the RRW stressing the motivation for becoming a terrorist fighter in Somalia, the call of Allah:
In an interview with a Somali radio station several months ago, one of the Minnesota fighters suggested that he and his friends traveled to Somalia on their own volition. Friends have identified the speaker as 30-year-old Zakaria Maruf, a graduate of Edison High School in Minneapolis.
“Brother, someone who is a grown man with any sense cannot be misled, Maruf said in the interview.”The place where we’ve come from is not a place where you can be coerced.”
In the interview, Maruf implies that his participation in the fighting was motivated by religion, not patriotism. Maruf said he and his friends heard the call of Allah, and they accepted it.
There was also a companion story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Minneapolis Somali Man killed in Homeland “ spotted by RRW colleague Ann Corcoran close on the heels of this New York Times piece about another murder of an American Somali Jihadi youth in Mogadishu. Note this:
While the body was identified only as that of a "foreign jihadist" or "fighter," a close-up of the face left Jamal Bana's mother with no doubt. The young man had been shot through the temple.
FBI officials said Saturday they could not confirm the news.
This Times piece, "A Call to Jihad From Somalia, Answered in America," by Andrea Elliott is significant because it lies above the fold in the Sunday edition front page, replete with pictures of Minneapolis area Al Shabaab recruits killed in Somali and continues inside, over two full pages. Clearly the Times news editors thoughts this was a major story with revelations about naturalized Somali American youths being recruited by radical Imams to fight for Al Shabaab in Somalia. And in now at least two instances, those young men were murdered by Al Shabaab terrorist forces there. The Times editors finally decided to address the issue that many of us have labored long and hard to communicate these past few years in blog posts and in the NER Symposium presentation, "Foot Soldiers of Islam." It is perhaps the first national mainstream news outlet to report on the threat that we have identified.
The author of the expose, Ms. Andrea Elliott is the Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist who seems to cover the “Muslim beat” for the Times. Her 2007 Pulitzer prize was awarded for a three part series on an Egyptian born Salafist Imam in Brooklyn and New Jersey.
This Times article on homegrown Somali Jihadis consisted of an examination by The New York Times, based on interviews with close friends and relatives of the men, law enforcement officials and lawyers, as well as access to live phone calls and Facebook messages between the men and their friends in the United States. It reveals how a far-flung jihadist movement found a foothold in America’s heartland.
While not breaking new ground, Elliott notes some recent developments vis a vis Federal prosecutor and FBI investigations of suspects involved in possible recruitment and transportation of these young American Somali Jihadis:
In the years since the Sept. 11 attacks, Somalis had remained largely under the law enforcement radar while other Muslim immigrants — primarily Arabs and South Asians — experienced the brunt of the raids and scrutiny. While federal investigators had tracked the movements of American recruits to the Shabaab since at least early 2008, the F.B.I.’s case did not swing into high gear until after Shirwa Ahmed’s suicide attack that fall.
….As the inquiry wore on, community leaders say, more than 50 people were subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury in Minneapolis and another jury was convened in San Diego. In April, F.B.I. agents raided three Somali money wiring businesses in Minneapolis. By then, the investigation had expanded to smaller Somali communities in Boston; Seattle; Portland, Me.; and Columbus, Ohio.
….Mr. Boelter tried to counter the negative attention by appearing on Somali television and radio, encouraging people to cooperate with investigators. Yet he has revealed little about the case itself. The scope and intensity of the investigation, he said, is merely commensurate to the danger posed by the men.
“If American citizens are joining the Shabaab, the potential threat domestically is serious,” Mr. Boelter said. “I think they could be commissioned to come back. Or they could do it on their own because they are philosophically aligned with the Shabaab or Al Qaeda.”
As Judy W in her RRW post point out that Times writer Elliott doesn’t recognize the roiling accusations that we have reported to Senator Lieberman’s Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) staff about relatives of murdered Burhan Hassan who accused the Muslim Brotherhood front, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), of trying to stifle the government’s investigations into jihadist recruitment in the Somali community, the subject of a lackluster HSGAC hearing in March. Nor does Elliott identify one of the As Saddiq Mosque staff, Omar Hurre, she quotes in her article, as a target of such investigations.
The tension in the community has turned inward at times. Last March, the uncle of Burhan Hassan, the boy known as Little Bashir, testified at a Congressional hearing on the case that the mosque had been “brainwashing” the young men and had possibly raised money for the Shabaab.
The mosque’s leaders denied this, in turn accusing the family and others of shirking responsibility for their own children. “That’s their obligation, to know where their kids are going,” said Omar Hurre, the mosque’s executive director.
Elliott’s reporting while fascinating vis a vis 'the boyz n the hood' dialogue,” doesn't fill in important blanks that AP award winning journalist Brian Mosely has in his Shelbyville Times-Gazette series that we interviewed him about in, “Somalis, Shelbyville and Severe Culture shock,” and that Patrick Poole noted in his Pajamas media piece, “What The Senators Didn’t Hear about Somali American Jihadists,” Judy and Ann Corcoran have covered this at the RRW and we have in many posts both in NER and The Iconoclast. The research and reporting by Ms. Elliott, the Times 'Muslim beat' journalist, in her earlier articles concentrated on the benign qualities of Islam and psycho babble theories of former CIA forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman, author of “Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the 21st Century” about the group dynamics that create young Jihadis instead of their radical Imams and Salafist beliefs. We commented on her earlier Times piece in the November 2007 Sunday Magazine account of the Moroccan town of Tetuoan, "Where Boys Grow Up to Be Jihadis" about the locale that spawned the 3/11 Madrid terror bombers.
Sageman says that Jihadism is all about social peer pressure and group dynamics. Something that Elliot says the counter terrorism wonks call, by the acronym, BOG (Bunch of Guys) or GOG (Group of Guys). “Religious extremism,” Elliott opines “may play a part,” but it is really “where the boys are” in a Moroccan town like Tetuoan on the soccer fields or sharing a past common experience like prison, that turns them into Jihadis.
What neither Sageman, the former CIA forensic psychiatrist, nor Elliott, the Times Muslim beat writer, emphasize is that the Wahhabi sponsored Mosque in the Moroccan town of Tetuoan may be the igniter of these group dynamics. It is the canards of Islam fostered by fiery Imams that breed disaffection and a thirst for revenge against the unbelievers, whether they were the victims of the 3/11 Madrid bombings, the 7/7 bombings in London and the 9/11 Jihad attacks in America. It is also reflected in the Fort Dix Six in South New Jersey who attended Islamist Mosques in both their vicinity and Brooklyn that fostered hate of the kaffir, or unbelievers, like their Jewish neighbors in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and propelled them to acquire semi-automatic weapons to train for a suicide mission.
In the current Times article, Elliott notes a ‘thread’ of Jihadism that may have motivated these young American Somali Jihadi recruits:
Mr. Hassan and another university student searched the Internet for jihadist videos and chat rooms, the friend said. They listened to “Constants on the Path to Jihad,” lectures by the Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is suspected of inciting Muslims in the West to violence. While Somali nationalism had initially driven the men, a friend said, their cause eventually took on a religious cast. They became convinced that Somalia’s years of bloodshed were punishment from God for straying from Islam, the friend said. The answer was to restore the Caliphate, or Islamic rule.
“They saw it as their duty to go and fight,” the friend said. “If it was just nationalism, they could give money. But religion convinced them to sacrifice their whole life.”
While Elliott doesn’t explicitly identify who were the recruiters are under federal investigation she does cite the Abubakar As-Saddique Mosque as a venue for such activities:
The recruitment of the Twin Cities men can be traced to a group of Somali immigrants from Northern Europe and other countries who, in 2005, traveled to Somalia to fight with the Islamist movement, a senior law enforcement official said. A handful of those men later went to Minneapolis, the official said, and helped persuade the first large group from the Twin Cities to leave for Somalia starting in late 2007.
That first wave consisted of men in their 20s and 30s who had been fixtures at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, the largest Somali mosque in Minneapolis. They included an emergency medical technician, a former waiter, a car-rental employee and Shirwa Ahmed, the onetime Roosevelt student who now wore a thick beard and silk gown.
Here’s what we wrote recently:
The scope of these Federal investigations in several US Somali communities underlines the failure of FBI and Homeland Security monitoring of radical Mosques, largely Saudi funded, and conflicts in the loyalties of naturalized American Somali admitted to this country under our generous humanitarian refugee program administered by our State Department and the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement. Further, it raises a serious question about the lack of screening of radical Imams who are admitted to this country using so-called religious orders Visas.
Nowhere in this Times piece does Elliott discuss how the Somali refugees got here under the State Department Humanitarian refugee program effectively controlled by the office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Nor does she address the massive fraud (over 80% of cases sampled) in the P-3 Family reunification Visa program that DNA testing by INS teams in Kenyan Somali refugee camps uncovered - immigration fraud that forced the State Department to temporarily shut down the Family reunification program. Note this from her article about the refugee pathway and lack of assimilation in America for Somali Americans:
A generation of Somalis grew up in the overcrowded refugee camps of northern Kenya, where malaria, scorpion infestations and hunger took their toll. Tales of America sustained them. Clean water was said to flow freely in kitchens, and simple jobs like plucking chickens paid handsomely.
Proof came in the cash sent by a first wave of refugees who had arrived in the United States in the early 1990s. Minneapolis, with its robust social services and steady supply of unskilled jobs, quickly became the capital of their North American Diaspora.
When they ended their shifts as cabdrivers or janitors, many Somalis retreated from American life. They had transformed a blighted stretch near the Mississippi River into a Little Mogadishu, commandeering a grim collection of cinderblock buildings known as the Towers — a onetime fictional residence of the heroine of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
They cut their hair at Somali barber shops, prayed at Somali mosques and organized themselves along the same clan lines that had divided them for decades, calling on tribal elders to settle family disputes and community rifts.
If the adults kept their distance from American culture, their children had little choice but to dive in.
At one point she talks about an American Somali Al Shabaab recruits’ comments about the “range of colors” of Al Shabaab and foreign fighters - implying that radical Islam is not racist - always a "good thing."
Mr. Hassan was struck by the diversity of the fighters, who included Chechnyans and converts from Europe. “I am looking out into the field and I see so many different colors,” Mr. Hassan told the friend by phone.
These American Somali youths also pined for their US comrades, as Elliott noted this about the motivation behind the recruitment network:
The full dimensions of the recruitment effort also remain unclear. A close friend of several of the men described the process as “a chain of friendship” in which one group encouraged the next.
“They want to bring people they are close with because they need that familiarity,” the friend said. “They created their own little America in Somalia.”
If this Times article has any value it may be to act as a prod for Senator Lieberman’s HSGAC staff to reopen the al Shabaab recruitment hearings of last March. This time, the HSGAC Committee staff might profitably address the Salafist Jihad ethos in the radical Somali mosques, how they are funded and how radical Imams enter this country, legally, under so-called religious orders visas. Another issue that cries out for intense investigation including a GAO audit is the massive immigration fraud in the P-3 family reunification Visa program. Finally, as Somali émigré families have demanded, HSGAC should bring up the matter of why a Muslim Brotherhood Front, CAIR, is stifling the investigations in recruitment of young Jihadis in American Somali communities. Now will Senator Lieberman’s HSGAC Committee spring into action? We shall soon see.
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