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Friday, March 20, 2009

U.S. intelligence reports first known Al Qaida recruiting ground — in Minneapolis

WASHINGTON — For the first time, the intelligence community has publicly identified an Al Qaida presence in the United States.   

The U.S. intelligence community has determined that Al Qaida was recruiting members of the Somali expatriate community around the northern city of Minneapolis. National Counterterrorism Center deputy director Andrew Liepman reported that young Somali Muslims were being organized and trained in East Africa for what could eventually result in attacks on the United States.

"We cannot rule out that potential given the indoctrination and training they might have received in East Africa," Liepman said.

  • 'First' American suicide bomber killed 30 after being 'radicalized in his hometown' February 26
  • Liepman told a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on March 11 that "tens" of Somali expatriates from Minneapolis were leaving the United States to train for attacks in the East Africa country. He said the recruitment and training was being conducted by the Al Shabab movement, linked to the Al Qaida leadership.

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    "They are going to Somalia to fight for their homeland, not to join Al Qaida's jihad against the United States, so far," Liepman said.

    In December 2008, a Somali expatriate from Minneapolis, Shirwa Ahmed, became the first American suicide bomber. The expatriate, who acquired U.S. citizenship, participated in a series of coordinated bombings on the United Nations the Ethiopian consulate and the presidential palace in Somalia.

    "Some get there and become cannon fodder," FBI national security official Philip Mudd said. "These folks aren't going over there to become part of terrorist cells. A lot of them are being put on the front line and some of them, I think, have been killed on the front line, from the United States."

    Officials said the Somalis were being recruited by Al Qaida both in Minnesota as well as through the Internet. So far, nobody has been arrested and charged as an Al Qaida recruiter in the United States. But officials said suspects were being investigated by the FBI.

    One Somali expatriate, Osman Ahmed, said his nephew left high school in Minnesota after he underwent indoctrination in a local mosque. He said his nephew Burhan Hassan, a high school senior, and other expatriates around Minneapolis, allured by the prospect of an Islamic paradise, traveled first to Somalia without the knowledge of their parents.

    In Somalia, Ahmed said, Hassan underwent military training at an Al Shabab facility. Ahmed said Al Shabab warned the American recruits that they would be arrested as soon as they returned home.

    "Our children had no clue they were being recruited to join Al Shabaab," Ahmed said. "We also heard that when kids arrive, they are immediately shocked at what 'utopia' is and all their documents and belongings are confiscated. They are whisked to hidden military camps for training. They are also told if they flee and return home that they will end up in Guantanamo."

    Officials said that neither the intelligence nor law enforcement community viewed the Somali expatriate community in Minneapolis as an insurgency threat. They said their major concern was that Americans trained by Al Qaida in Somalia could succeed in returning to the United States and conduct a major strike.

    The U.S. intelligence community has determined that the threat from Somalia to the United States would increase in 2009. Officials said Al Shabab was preparing to merge with Al Qaida, which would grant Osama Bin Laden a renewed presence in East Africa.

    "We judge the terrorist threat to US interests in East Africa, primarily from Al Qaida and Al Qaida-affiliated Islamic extremists in Somalia and Kenya, will increase in the next year as Al Qaida's East Africa network continues to plot operations against U.S., Western, and local targets and the influence of the Somalia-based terrorist group Al Shabaab grows," National Intelligence director Dennis Blair said. "Given the high-profile U.S. role in the region and its perceived direction-in the minds of Al Qaida and local extremists-of foreign intervention in Somalia, we assess U.S. counterterrorism efforts will be challenged not only by the Al Qaida operatives in the Horn, but also by Somali extremists and increasing numbers of foreign fighters supporting Al Shabaab's efforts."

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