Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have no country or borders.
They recruit whole groups and individual people, bringing them into their fold to launch attacks against a Western enemy they see as a threat to their way of life.
And they are recruiting in the United States.
It’s in the suburbs of Minnesota that Wednesday’s new episode of TheBlaze TV’s For The Record, “Minnesota Martyrs,” (8:30 p.m. ET) will reveal the very real threats America faces from citizens indoctrinated inside the United States by jihadists. The episode also takes viewers into a Somali-American community and explores how members are working with federal law enforcement to thwart possible attacks and to stop the recruitment.
“Recruiters for Al Qaeda, and its offshoots like Al-Shabaab hide among us in our communities,” a U.S. military official who has worked in various parts of Africa on counterterrorism missions told TheBlaze. The official spoke on the condition that they not be named due to the covert nature of their work.
Many times terror recruiters do their jobs without drawing suspicion from federal law enforcement, community leaders or the very families of those they bring in. In Minnesota’s twin cities, where the largest contingent of Somali-Americans reside – approximately 80,000 – Al Qaeda’s Somali affiliate Al-Shabaab is finding new members.
There is no doubt that Al-Shabaab, despite its own fractured leadership, is still a viable threat to the West. In September, the terror group’s attack on non-Muslims at the upscale Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya killed more than 70 people and injured hundreds more. The attack was a signal to Western counterterrorism officials that the organization is gaining strength, not dissipating.
It was also a warning that Western nations should remain vigilant against future planned attacks and ones that could possibly be carried out by American or European recruits.
It was members of the Somali community that first tipped off the FBI in Minnesota in 2008, when three families went to law enforcement after their children disappeared and left the country.
FBI spokesman Paul Bresson told TheBlaze that the agency’s community outreach programs play “an important role in the FBI’s broader efforts to improve our understanding of all communities we serve and the threats they face.”
“Word spread like wild fire,” said Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali-American whose 17-year-old nephew was one of the first recruits to join Al-Shabaab in Somalia. In Minneapolis, the FBI began receiving information in fall 2007 from community members like Bihi that jihadists were recruiting from the community.
Bihi, who heads the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center and speaks out against radicalization, never saw his nephew again. He was killed in Somalia. Bihi estimates that more than 50 members of his community in Minnesota have been recruited by Al-Shabaab since 2007. FBI officials said that at least three of the recruits became suicide bombers and 15 more that they know of were killed after fleeing the United States.
Bihi said he had heard rumors before the young men went missing that members of his community were being recruited, but he couldn’t prove it. People were too afraid to speak, he said.
What he did know was that some imams, or Muslim religious leaders, in his community were pleading with young men to go to Somalia to wage jihad and some were teaching a radicalized form of Islam, an extreme ideology that aided in the conversions. He, like other concerned Somali Americans, went to the FBI.
“And suddenly we found out that these are happening, that these kids are being taken to Somalia for Al-Shabaab,” Bihi said.
The U.S. military official who spoke to TheBlaze said American law enforcement officers “don’t usually know until it’s too late, unfortunately.”
“If these young men don’t die or stay in Somalia once they’re recruited, what happens when one of them comes back home?” the official said. “What if they are being trained for missions against their new homeland? These are real concerns. This is a real danger.”