The head of the largest Somali-American youth organization told Congress on Thursday that the United States faces “an uphill battle” in the fight against the Somalia-based al-Shabab terrorist network’s active recruiting operations in American cities.
Officials must work with local partners in these cities “to deter youth from becoming radicalized and recruited,” said Mohamed Farah, executive director of Ka Joog, a Minnesota-based grass-roots group whose name in Somali means “stay away.” Minnesota is home to the nation’s largest Somali emigre community.
Mr. Farah, told a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that the al Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab preys on “disenfranchised” Somali youth and that U.S. agencies should be doing more to aid organizations like his own in the fight to “eliminate this cancerous ideology.”
The sobering remarks came amid heightened concern among U.S. law enforcement and intelligence official about the possibility that al-Shabab may be plotting attacks on “soft targets” in the United States — following the group’s horrific attack two weeks ago on a high-end shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed dozens.
The FBI has ramped up investigations since al-Shabab claimed via Twitter that three Somali-Americans, recruited from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and Kansas City, were among the gunmen who laid siege to the mall.
The FBI has not yet confirmed or denied the claims that three Somali-Americans were among those who carried out the attack that killed 67 people.
Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, said Thursday that Kenyan government authorities have “painted a picture” of 10 to 15 attackers involved in the siege, which began Sept. 21 and lasted four days.
But questions remain about the validity of the claims made on Twitter.
Richard Downie, the deputy director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, testified that the Twitter messages were unreliable and that “Kenyan authorities have been very slow in providing information about the attack.”
“We still don’t know some of the very basics: How many attackers and what groups? How many escaped? Were hostages taken?” Mr. Downie said. “We have very, very little to go on other than now — it turns out — a fake Twitter account from al-Shabab, which gave a list of names of people.”
Mr. Farah told The Washington Times later Thursday it’s unclear whether Somali-Americans were among the attackers.
“No one knows yet,” Mr. Farah said. “I’m sure our government is doing everything they can to see if those names actually are folks that left the United States. But from what we know now, it still seems to be just an allegation.”
An American connection?
But it is disconcerting allegation, and one that over the past two weeks has fueled fresh congressional interest in al-Shabab — particularly its recruitment activicites in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, where an estimated 80,000 Somali-Americans live.