Today on the fifth anniversary of the Madrid train bombing by radical Islamists, Senator Joe Lieberman’s Homeland Security Commitee heard testimony in an attempt to gauge the degree of concern we should have over the Somali “youths” who have reportedly left the US to take part in Jihadist activities in the Horn of Africa.
I attended the hearing in Washington today and will tell you in detail about it tomorrow. Update: Here now is my report.
As a kind of warm-up I’m posting tonight on the Washington Post’s front page story today in advance of the hearing. This situation has been going on for months, in fact over a year, and it’s finally sinking into the conciousness of insular Washington. To read this (below) and listen to the hearings, one begins to see how 9/11 came about.
Senior U.S. counterterrorism officials are stepping up warnings that Islamist extremists in Somalia are radicalizing Americans to their cause, citing their recruitment of the first U.S. citizen suicide bomber and their potential role in the disappearance of more than a dozen Somali American youths.
In recent public statements, the director of national intelligence and the leaders of the FBI and CIA have cited the case of Shirwa Ahmed, a 27-year-old college student from Minneapolis who blew himself up in Somalia on Oct. 29 in one of five simultaneous bombings attributed to al-Shabaab, a group with close links to al-Qaeda.
Since November, the FBI has raced to uncover any ties to foreign extremist networks in the unexpected departures of numerous Somali American teenagers and young men, who family members believe are in Somalia. The investigation is active in Boston; San Diego; Seattle; Columbus, Ohio; and Portland, Maine, a U.S. law enforcement official said, and community members say federal grand juries have issued subpoenas in Minneapolis and elsewhere.
Officials are still trying to assess the scope of the problem but say reports so far do not warrant a major concern about a terrorist threat within the United States. But intelligence officials said the recruitment of U.S. citizens by terrorist groups is particularly worrisome because their American passports could make it easier for them to reenter the country.
Al-Shabaab — meaning “the youth” or “young guys” in Arabic — “presents U.S. authorities with the most serious evidence to date of a ‘homegrown’ terrorist recruitment problem right in the American heartland,” Georgetown University professor Bruce R. Hoffman says in a forthcoming report by the SITE Intelligence Group, a private firm that monitors Islamist Web sites.
There wasn’t much new in the Post story that we haven’t reported here, but this was a revelation. Director of the FBI Robert Mueller compared Somalia to Ireland, huh?
U.S. authorities have been wary of stereotyping Somalis or overstating concerns, with Mueller recently comparing the situation to that in Ireland, another country with civil strife, terrorism and a large immigrant community in the United States but little violence here.
Maybe he was thinking Ireland and Islam both start with the letter “I.” Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t remember any angry Irish immigrants going back to the ‘old sod’ to kill themselves as Shirwa Ahmed did.
Then here comes the obligatory reporter’s homage to Omar Jamal (see all of our posts on Omar ‘Jesse Jackson’ Jamal here):
Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in Minnesota, said the group first alerted the local FBI a year ago, when family members believed Sakaria Sharif Macruf had left and been killed fighting in Somalia. He later turned up alive but with al-Shabaab in Kismaayo, a city in southern Somalia under the group’s control, Ahmed said.
Jamal said U.S. government policies since 9/11 helped push alienated youths toward radicals.
“You have high rates of young guys unemployed. You have a high rate of dropouts. They’re difficult to integrate and work into the mainstream.” He said religious extremists worked with youths and “gave them hope in their lives — then indoctrinated them into this violent, radical ideology.”
Only one problem with Jamal’s ‘poverty and alienation’ breed terrorism theory, by all accounts some of the missing boys were in the US since they were babies, were straight A students and had bright futures.
When I tell you about the hearing tomorrow, you will see this theme ran throughout the hearing—the poor, fatherless, alienated, unassimilated “kids” are ripe for radical Islamic recruitment. Not one word about the power and pull of Islamic religious and political ideology, something we, mostly secular Americans, just don’t get.