US officials step up warnings about missing Somali-Americans

Shirwa Ahmed

Shirwa Ahmed

IntelNews has previously reported on the case of Shirwa Ahmed, a US citizen of Somali descent who last October became history’s first known US-born suicide bomber. On October 29, 2008, Ahmed was one of five bombers who carried out near-simultaneous suicide bombings in the Somali city of Hargeisa, targeting the Presidential palace, the consulate of Ethiopia and a UN complex. The bombings have been attributed to al-Shabaab (the Party of Youth), a militant youth faction of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union (ICU). Members of the ICU went underground in late 2006, after Ethiopia launched a US-aided invasion of Somalia with the aim of curtailing the ICU’s grassroots support and preventing the solidification of the group’s rule in Somalia. Al-Shabaab represents the most militant of the ICU-led underground, and is said to be one of several groups in Somalia with significant al-Qaeda links. US counterterrorism agents believe that Shirwa Ahmed, who lived in Minneapolis, MN, was not al-Shabaab’s sole American recruit. Since last November, when it confirmed Ahmed’s death, the FBI has discovered that at least a dozen of Shirwa Ahmed’s friends and associates, most of them Somali-American teenagers from Minnesota, have disappeared. Their families say the young men have gone back to Somalia, but have no idea where or why. Now J. Philip Mudd, a senior FBI official, as well as Andrew Liepman, Deputy Director at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), say they are concerned that the missing men may be part of a covert al-Shabaab project to radicalize young Americans in Somalia before sending them back to the United States “to conduct attacks”. The two officials say they have “no credible evidence that the young men who traveled to Somalia have returned to plan attacks”, nor do they know the exact number of the missing youths. However, counterterrorism officials say they are actively investigating leads in various US states, including Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Ohio and Maine. They are also examining the possibility that the missing men “were lured away through sustained interaction with extremists both in person and via the Internet”. Reports from Somalia state that the grassroots support for al-Shabaab and other al-Qaeda-linked militant groups has been gaining strength as a result of the US-backed Ethiopian invasion, and by what one informed observer has termed the severe blowback of the US secret rendition program in the country.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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