“The Americans’ suicide attacks and speeches are meant to attract other Americans.”
As this report notes, sometimes they “attract” a different set of Americans than they intended, like Navy SEALs who are interested in finding them before they export their new-found expertise back home. “Americans Rise in Rank Inside Somalia Jihadi Group,” by Jennie Olson for the Associated Press, January 13:
The October al-Qaida video shows a light-skinned man handing out food to families displaced by famine in Somalia. But the masked man is not Somali, or even African – he’s a Wisconsin native who grew up in San Diego.
A handful of young Muslims from the U.S. are taking high-visibility propaganda and operational roles inside an al-Qaida-linked insurgent force in Somalia known as al-Shabab. While most are from Minnesota, which has the largest Somali population in the nation, al-Shabab members include a Californian and an Alabaman with no ancestral ties to Somalia.
“They are being deployed in roles that appear to be shrewdly calculated to raise al-Shabab’s international profile and to recruit others, especially those from the United States and other English-speaking countries,” said Anders Folk, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted suspected al-Shabab supporters in Minnesota.
Officials fear another terrorist attack in East Africa. Kenya announced on Jan. 7 that it had thwarted attempted al-Shabab attacks over the holidays. The same day, Britain’s Foreign Office urged Britons in Kenya to be extra vigilant, warning that terrorists there may be “in the final stages of planning attacks.”
More than 40 people have traveled from the U.S. to Somalia to join al-Shabab since 2007, and 15 of them have died, according to a report from the House Homeland Security Committee. Federal investigations into al-Shabab recruitment in the U.S. have centered on Minnesota, which has more than 32,000 Somalis.
At least 21 men have left Minnesota to join al-Shabab in that same time. The FBI has confirmed that at least two of them died in Somalia as suicide bombers. A U.S. citizen is suspected in a third suicide bombing, and another is under investigation in connection with a fourth bombing on Oct. 29 that killed 15 people.
The star of the al-Qaida video was Jehad Mostafa, 30, a Californian who handed out food using the name Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir, according to the SITE Monitoring Service. The Washington Post reported last year that Mostafa served as top lieutenant to Saleh Nabhan, a senior al-Qaida operative killed by Navy SEALs in a helicopter attack inside Somalia in 2010. […]
U.S. military commanders fear that Americans inside al-Shabab could train as bombmakers and use their U.S. passports to carry out attacks in the United States.
E.K. Wilson, the agent overseeing the FBI’s investigation in Minneapolis, said he cannot comment on whether there is an outstanding order to capture or kill Americans fighting for al-Shabab. The FBI has publicly said the Americans should return to the U.S.
It’s a mystery what caused Mostafa, a young man whom many remember as mild and friendly, to join an extremist group.
Mostafa grew up in San Diego and graduated from the University of California San Diego. Imam Abdeljalil Mezgouri of the Islamic Center of San Diego, the city’s largest mosque, said Mostafa was a respectful teen and good student.
“He was a very quiet, very loving boy. He didn’t talk too much but when he did talk, people liked him,” said Mezgouri.
Mezgouri said Mostafa got married in his early 20s to a woman he believed was from Somalia.
Public records show Mostafa was the president of the now-defunct Muslim Youth Council of San Diego, or MYCSD. The former organization’s Web site says the group was “dedicated to showing the world that Islam is a religion of peace and Muslims are a peaceful and productive part of society.” […]
Mostafa is believed to have met American militant Anwar al-Awlaki about a decade ago at a San Diego mosque, according to The Washington Post. He went to Somalia in 2005. Federal officials declined to comment. […]
The son of a Christian mother and a Syrian-born Muslim father, [Omar] Hammami attended Daphne High School. Then-assistant principal Don Blanchard recalls Hammami as generally well liked.
“Omar I would not classify as a troubled kid,” said Blanchard.
Hammami enrolled at the University of South Alabama, where he was president of the Muslim Student Association. Following the 2001 terror attacks, Hammami spoke to the student newspaper.
“Even now it’s difficult to believe a Muslim could have done this,” The Vanguard quoted Hammami as saying.
How about now?
Hammami went to Somalia in 2006. He was indicted in 2007 on terrorism charges, and faced more charges in 2009 for providing material support to terrorists.
Hammami, who wears a long beard and often raps in al-Shabab videos, released a nearly 50 minute lecture in October to commemorate five years with the group. He spouts hatred for “Western oppression.” In the video, provided to AP by the IntelCenter, he compares his upbringing in America with his life in Somalia, where he says a microwave – “or even a normal oven” — is a rarity.
The English speaker serves as a recruiter and fund-raiser and is one of the top people in charge of al-Shabab’s foreign fighters, Kohlmann said.
Hammami attends morning fighting drills and motivates new recruits, former al-Shabab fighter Abdi Hassan told AP. Hammami avoids mobile phones for fear intelligence agencies will trace him, and uses pseudonyms on the Internet.
“He sometimes cries with emotion, which makes others cry with him,” said Hassan. He added, “Every new American is asked to convince his friends to come. The Americans’ suicide attacks and speeches are meant to attract other Americans.”