But at the same time it can’t help but notice that there was a religious dimension to their deciding to return to Somalia and wage violent jihad. And no one, you’ll note, seems to have stopped them and said, “Wait a minute! Islam is peace!”
A few excerpts from a very long piece — read it all: “A Call to Jihad, Answered in America,” by Andrea Elliott for the New York Times, July 11 (thanks to all who sent this in):
[…] “Why are we sitting around in America, doing nothing for our people?” one of the men, Mohamoud Hassan, a skinny 23-year-old engineering major, pressed his friends.
In November, Mr. Hassan and two other students dropped out of college and left for Somalia, the homeland they barely knew. Word soon spread that they had joined the Shabaab, a militant Islamist group aligned with Al Qaeda that is fighting to overthrow the fragile Somali government.
The students are among more than 20 young Americans who are the focus of what may be the most significant domestic terrorism investigation since Sept. 11. One of the men, Shirwa Ahmed, blew himself up in Somalia in October, becoming the first known American suicide bomber. The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert M. Mueller, has said Mr. Ahmed was “radicalized in his hometown in Minnesota.” […]
The men appear to have been motivated by a complex mix of politics and faith, and their communications show how some are trying to recruit other young Americans to their cause.
The case represents the largest group of American citizens suspected of joining an extremist movement affiliated with Al Qaeda. Although friends say the men have never thought of carrying out attacks in the United States, F.B.I. officials worry that with their training, ideology and American passports, there is a real danger that they could.[…]
At the root of the problem was a “crisis of belonging,” said Mohamud Galony, a science tutor who was friends with Mr. Ahmed and is the uncle of another boy who left. Young Somalis had been raised to honor their families” tribes, yet felt disconnected from them. “They want to belong, but who do they belong to?” said Mr. Galony, 23.
By 2004, Mr. Ahmed had found a new circle of friends. These religious young men, pegged as “born-agains” or “fundis,” set themselves apart by their dress. Their trousers had gone from sagging to short, emulating the Prophet Muhammad, who was said to have kept his clothes from touching the ground.
Perhaps none of Mr. Ahmed’s contemporaries had undergone a transformation like that of Zakaria Maruf.
A short boy prone to fits of rage, Mr. Maruf began running afoul of the law at the age of 14. For a time, he fell in with the Hot Boyz, a violent street gang.
He seemed to crave recognition. Known on the basketball court as Zak, he was a mediocre athlete, but he pushed himself harder than anyone else, recalled his coach, Ahmed Dahir.
Mr. Maruf threw himself into Islam with the same intensity, becoming a fixture at a mosque near the Towers, where he mastered the call to prayer. “He had an ego the size of Minnesota,” one fellow mosque member said. “It was, “˜Look at me.” ”
Mr. Ahmed and Mr. Maruf were sometimes seen preaching to kids on the street, offering their own lives as examples of reform. Yet they continued to struggle.
Mr. Maruf’s criminal record had foiled his search for a job. When he proposed to a young woman in 2005, her parents scoffed, one friend recalled. They did not want their daughter winding up “on welfare,” they told Mr. Maruf, who worked at a Wal-Mart.
“They think that life is about money and material things, but watch what that will do for them,” Mr. Maruf told the friend one afternoon, sitting slumped at the mosque.
He seemed to be searching for a clean slate. Both he and Mr. Ahmed would find it thousands of miles away. […]
In 2006, an Islamist movement swept through Somalia and seized control, giving the country its first taste of peace in a generation.
The group, known as the Islamic Courts Union, promised to end 15 years of internecine violence by uniting Somalia’s clans under the banner of Islam. Key ports were reopened, and order was restored to the capital, Mogadishu.[…]
Spurred by a newfound sense of nationalism, college students distributed T-shirts emblazoned with the Somali flag and held demonstrations during a frigid Minnesota winter.
The protests took on a religious dimension as well. While the United States had defended the Ethiopian invasion as a front in the global war on terrorism, many Somalis saw it as a Christian crusade into a Muslim land. They were outraged at reports of Ethiopian troops raping Somali women, looting mosques and killing civilians.
If the Ethiopians were seen as infidel invaders, an insurgent group known as the Shabaab “” “youth,” in Arabic “” was emerging as “freedom fighters.” In its online propaganda, the Shabaab conflated nationalist sentiments with religious ideology, following a tactic honed by Al Qaeda.
The Shabaab began releasing videos portraying Somalia’s struggle as part of a global movement to defend Islam and restore its rule. Foreign recruits were promised “victory or martyrdom” for enlisting. Several American converts to Islam joined up.
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.
That fall, Mr. Ahmed announced to friends that he was moving to the Middle East to study Islam. After he left for Saudi Arabia to make hajj, the obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca, his nephew wrote to a friend, “My uncle is a changed man.”[…]
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.”[…]
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.[…]