The FBI is expanding contacts with Somali immigrant communities in the U.S., especially in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, fearing that terrorists are recruiting young men for suicide missions in their homeland.
FBI Special Agent E.K. Wilson, spokesman for the Twin Cities FBI field office, described the effort as community outreach. Many members of the Somali community are concerned over disappearances, he said.
Officials would not provide the exact number of missing, but about 20 men in their late teens and early 20s have disappeared in recent months and are thought to have joined Islamist rebels who are on the verge of overthrowing the U.S.- and U.N.-backed government in Somalia.
Most were from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the site of the largest concentration of ethnic Somalis in the U.S., but other Somali communities have had young men go missing as well.
The FBI assisted in returning the remains of one Somali man, Shirwa Ahmed, a naturalized U.S. citizen killed Oct. 29 in a suicide bombing in northern Somalia.
The FBI would not say whether Mr. Ahmed was a bomber or victim in the attack, in which five terrorists killed themselves and 29 others.
In another incident, U.S. officials confirmed that a missile strike in Somalia had killed a Seattle man suspected of being an Islamist radical working with an al Qaeda-affiliated group.
Ruben Shumpert, a Muslim convert who changed his name to Amir Abdul Muhaimin, had been wanted on federal gun charges. He was killed in Somalia sometime before Oct. 1, said U.S. officials who described the strike as part of anti-terrorist military operations carried out in recent months.
“The FBI is aware of the issue,” said Richard Kolko, an FBI spokesman in Washington. “We know many in the Somali community are concerned about it.”
Mr. Kolko declined further comment.
Ahmed Elmi, chairman of the Washington-based Somali-American Community Association (SACA), said he knew of no one in the Washington area’s relatively tiny Somali community who had disappeared or of any recruitment here of would-be Islamist fighters.
“I want to have my antennae out,” Mr. Elmi said. “If there is a practice like that, I need to know.”
He said about 10,000 Somalis live in the Washington area, spread out over Maryland, Virginia and the District, among the estimated 200,000 nationwide.
SACA and other Somali groups in the U.S. have regular contacts with the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence going back two years, Mr. Elmi said.
Earlier this month, Mr. Elmi said, he participated in a conference call with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Homeland Security that included a half-dozen Somali community leaders from throughout the U.S.