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Jan 26th, 2009



Recruited for Jihad?

About 20 young Somali-American men in Minneapolis have recently vanished
Sheik Abdirahman Ahmed, of the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, in Minneapolis. (Photo credit: Matt Eich / Aurora for Newsweek)

By Dan Ephron and Mark Hosenball
January 23, 2009 (Feb. 2, 2009 print issue)


It didn’t trouble Burhan Hassan’s mother that her son had been spending more time at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, Minneapolis’s largest mosque. A 17-year-old senior at Roosevelt High, Hassan and his family had fled civil war in Somalia when he was a toddler.

Some of the other Somali immigrants in the Cedar-Riverside housing project where he lived got drawn into gangs with names like Murda Squad and Somali Mafia. But Hassan was getting good grades and talking about going to college, says his uncle Abdirizak Bihi.

When the boy didn’t come home from school on Nov. 4, his family assumed he was at the mosque. By evening, his mother had searched his room and found his laptop was gone and clothes were missing. Later, she discovered his passport had been taken from a drawer she kept locked. “That’s when we realized something serious had happened,” says Bihi.

Hassan, his family later found out, had boarded a chain of connecting flights to Amsterdam and Nairobi and a boat to Kismaayo in Somalia. The city is a stronghold of al-Shabab, which is one of the country’s most hard-line jihadist groups and has close ties to Al Qaeda. He traveled with at least two and up to five other young Somali-Americans from Minneapolis, according to others in the community and law-enforcement officials.

Within a day, Hassan phoned home to report he was safe — but when probed, he said he couldn’t divulge more and hung up. The call and the circumstances of his sudden disappearance led his family to suspect the worst — that Hassan had somehow been persuaded to join Islamic militants fighting for control of the lawless country.

That suspicion is now shared by counterterrorism officials and the FBI, who are probing whether al-Shabab or other Somali Islamic groups are actively recruiting in a few cities across the United States. The officials say as many as 20 Somali-Americans between the ages of 17 and 27 have left their Minneapolis homes in the past 18 months under suspicious circumstances.

Their investigation deepened when one of the missing men, Minnesotan Shirwa Ahmed, blew himself up alongside other suicide bombers in Somalia last October, killing dozens of al-Shabab’s political opponents and civilians. Ahmed had also prayed at Abubakar, and within weeks the FBI put the imam of the mosque, Sheik Abdirahman Ahmed, on a no-fly list. Among the questions investigators are asking: Who persuaded the young men to go? Who paid for their flights? And what role, if any, has the mosque played in their alleged recruitment?

Since al-Shabab is on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, traveling to Somalia to train or fight with the group is illegal. But security officials involved in the investigation have a bigger concern — that a jihadist group able to enlist U.S. nationals to fight abroad might also be able to persuade Somali-Americans to act as sleeper agents here in the United States. …

[S]ecurity officials view the bulletin and the disappearances in Minnesota as a warning that Somalia’s brew of lawlessness and radicalism might rebound on the United States. “You have to ask yourself, how long is it before one of these guys comes back here and blows himself up?” says a senior U.S. counterterrorism official, who also wouldn’t be quoted on the record discussing intel. …

In a search of one of the missing boys’ rooms, family members found an itinerary issued by a Minneapolis travel agency. The itinerary, obtained by NEWSWEEK, lists two other travelers in addition to Burhan Hassan and charts a punishing five-leg journey to Mogadishu departing Nov. 1 (the reservations were later changed to Nov. 4).

The document is significant because it suggests sophisticated planning. Instead of leaving Minneapolis on the same plane, each young man was to travel alone — one to Chicago and two to Boston on separate flights. The counterterrorism official familiar with the investigation says the staggered departures could be evidence of terrorist “tradecraft.”

Financing of the trips has also raised suspicions. The multiple flights would have cost at least $2,000 for each traveler and were probably paid for in cash. Osman Ahmed says his nephew had no job and could not have accessed such a large sum. …

At least 40,000 Somalis live in Minnesota, with the majority concentrated in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. …


Related reports on this site

Somali Terror Suspects Indicted (Aug. 7, 2010)

Yemen-Somalia Terror Nexus (Jan. 12, 2010)

FBI Probing Somali Terror Link (March 12, 2009)


6/9/2009 Update

Mystery Surrounds Death of Somali Teen

Image: Burhan Hassan
Burhan Hassan was one of many young Somali men who went missing from Minneapolis last year. His family suspects he was recruited by radical elements in Somalia. (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

June 9, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS — Burhan Hassan was an infant when he left his homeland of Somalia. He grew up American, a bright student with dreams of becoming a doctor or lawyer.

But now his family is trying to find out why the 18-year-old was killed under mysterious circumstances in Somalia.

Hassan was one of about a dozen young Somali men who have gone missing from the Minneapolis area over the last couple years — recruited, their families say, by radical elements in Somalia. Relatives said they learned Friday that he had been killed and buried in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, but they had few details.

His death follows a suicide bombing carried out in that warring Horn of Africa country last October by another young Somali man from Minneapolis.

“We believe he was killed because he would have been a key person in the investigation into the recruitment (of young Somali men) here in Minneapolis,” said Hassan’s uncle, Abdirizak Bihi. Bihi said his nephew was found shot in the head in an open area of the city. …

FBI, and victim’s mother, withold details

The FBI has acknowledged an ongoing investigation into the disappearances, but won’t elaborate. Several local Somalis say they’ve been questioned by the FBI, Customs officials, or subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury over the last several months.

“Everything is top secret. It’s very hard to find out what’s going on,” said Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center.

Hassan — who was raised by a single mother after his father died in an accident — was 8 months old when his family arrived at a refugee camp in Kenya. With two older brothers and a sister, he was not yet 4 when they came to the United States in 1996.

A bright student disappears

Hassan was a student at Roosevelt High School and was taking college courses such as calculus and advanced chemistry through the University of Minnesota, with dreams of attending Harvard University to study medicine or law.

“He never knew anything about Somalia. He grew up here. He was an American kid,” Bihi said. He said his nephew did not even speak the Somali language.

But last November, Hassan disappeared at the age of 17. His mother reported him missing to police. Relatives said they feared he was recruited by al-Shabab, an extremist Islamist group considered by the U.S. State Department to be a terrorist organization with links to al-Qaida. Al-Shabab denies the links.

Last October, a Minneapolis man, Shirwa Ahmed, carried out a suicide bombing as part of a series of coordinated attacks that targeted a U.N. compound, the Ethiopian consulate and the presidential palace in Hargeisa, capital of the Somaliland region. FBI Director Robert Mueller said in February that the bomber had probably been “radicalized” in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Bihi, Hassan’s uncle, has said that Hassan called home from time to time but the calls were short and cryptic. When family members asked Hassan what he was doing, the teen quickly ended the phone conversation. …

Minnesota mosque denies involvement

Like some of the other missing young people, Hassan had also attended the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in Minneapolis. Hassan had gone to the mosque for more than 10 years and was involved in a youth group there, another uncle told a U.S. Senate committee in March.

Officials of the mosque — the largest in Minnesota — have repeatedly denied accusations by families of some of the missing men that the mosque played a role in their decision to leave. The center’s director, Omar Hurre, repeated on Monday that such allegations are “baseless.”

Hassan’s relatives have said his disappearance came as a shock when the family discovered him missing Nov. 4, 2008.

In testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, another uncle, Osman Ahmed, said they first became suspicious when they got a message from Roosevelt High School saying Hassan had missed all his classes that day. He said the youth’s mother checked his room and found that his luggage, clothes and passport were missing. …


7/13/2009 Update

Relative Confirms Death of Fourth Young Man from Minnesota in Somalia

By Allie Shah, James Walsh and Richard Meryhew

July 13, 2009

For the second time in two days, a Somali man from Minneapolis has been reported killed in his war-torn homeland, a relative confirmed Sunday.

Zakaria Maruf, 30, who is believed to have been among the first wave of young Somali men to leave Minnesota for Somalia over the past two years, was killed Saturday in Mogadishu, the relative said.

Maruf is the fourth Somali man from the Twin Cities to have died in Somalia since October.

The relative said she did not know how Maruf was killed, adding that she learned of his death in a phone conversation with his wife.

On Saturday, the family of Jamal Bana, 20, of Minneapolis, learned that he had been killed in Somalia after seeing a photograph of his body on a Somali news website. Bana had been shot in the head. …

For more than a year, federal authorities have been investigating a possible connection between terrorist groups and the disappearances of as many as 20 young Somalis from the Twin Cities over the past two years.

One of those men, Shirwa Ahmed, 26, was killed in a suicide bombing during a series of coordinated attacks in northern Somalia in October. He was the first U.S. citizen known to have carried out a suicide bombing.

A second Minneapolis man, Burhan Hassan, 18, was shot and killed in early June, according to his family. Hassan died a day before his Roosevelt High School classmates graduated. …

A prominent Somali community leader in Minneapolis who asked not to be named said Sunday that Maruf, a short, muscular man who played soccer for the local Somali Tigers club, had a troubled past and problems with his family. …

“One day he’d be fighting in the streets, and the next day he’d be at the mosque,” he said.

He said that the “mosque kind of found him, and he was one of those who was helped by the mosque.”

A community youth leader who once worked with Maruf said Sunday that once Maruf became more religious, he left street life behind. …

Bana’s friends and family said he, too, also became very religious before leaving his south Minneapolis home Nov. 4 for Somalia. …

Abdirizak Bihi, Burhan Hassan’s uncle and a community organizer, said Sunday that there are rumors several other Twin Cities Somali men who returned to their homeland over the past two years also may have been killed recently. …


11/1/2011 Update

Suicide Bomber in Somali Attack Was Reportedly from Minneapolis

Image: Abdisalan Hussein Ali
This photo provided Oct. 31, 2011 by the FBI shows Abdisalan Hussein Ali, an American-Somali who was 19 at the time he disappeared from Minnesota in November 2008. (Photo credit: FBI via AP)

The Associated Press via
October 31, 2011

MOGADISHU, Somalia — A man who blew himself up in an attack in the Somali capital on Saturday reportedly grew up in Minneapolis and was known by the FBI as one of 20 Somali Americans to have joined an al-Qaida-linked militant group.

Abdisalan Hussein Ali, 22, was suspected of being a member of al-Shabab, the FBI told

Kyle Loven, the FBI’s chief division counsel for Minneapolis, said Ali was a subject of “Operation Rhino,” an ongoing investigation into Somali youth traveling from the U.S. to Somalia to fight for al-Shabab. …

Al-Shabab posted an audiotape that they said was made by Ali before he blew himself up during an attack Saturday on an African Union base in Mogadishu that left at least 10 people dead. …

In the tape, the young man, who would be at least the fourth American to become a suicide bomber in Somalia, urges other young people to not “just chill all day” and instead fight nonbelievers around the world. …

There were conflicting reports of his name, with some sources naming the bomber as Abdisalan Taqabalahullaah and Cabdi Salaam al-Muhajir. …

Full story


3/23/2015 Update

From Minneapolis to ISIS: An American’s Path to Jihad

Abdi Nur, right, posted a photo online from Syria. A friend, Abdullahi Yusuf, left, was stopped as he tried to depart. Top, an image of Western passports put up by a Twitter user who says she is an American with the Islamic State. (Photo credit: New York Times)

By Scott Shane

March 22, 2015

The chilling progression of a Minnesota man suggests that the Islamic State may rely on recruiters inside the United States and shows how hard it is to predict who will be swept away by ideological fervor.

Read the story at the New York Times


4/21/2015 Update

Six Minnesota Men Charged with Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Four Defendants Arrested in Minneapolis; Two Arrested in San Diego

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
April 20, 2015

WASHINGTON — A criminal complaint was filed today charging six Minnesota men with conspiracy and attempt to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, namely, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, 19, Adnan Farah, 19, Hanad Mustafe Musse, 19, and Guled Ali Omar, 20, were arrested in Minneapolis yesterday. Abdirahman Yasin Daud, 21, and Mohamed Abdihamid Farah, 21, were arrested yesterday in California after driving from Minneapolis to San Diego.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger of the District of Minnesota and Special Agent in Charge Richard T. Thornton of the FBI’s Minneapolis Division made the announcement.

“The six defendants charged in the complaint allegedly planned to travel to Syria as part of their conspiracy to provide material support to ISIL,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “One of the National Security Division’s highest priorities is to identify, disrupt, and hold accountable those who provide or attempt to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations. I would like to thank the many agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this investigation and the charges in this case.”

“As described in the criminal complaint, these men worked over the course of the last 10 months to join ISIL,” said U.S. Attorney Luger. “Even when their co-conspirators were caught and charged, they continued to seek new and creative ways to leave Minnesota to fight for a terror group. I applaud the hard work and tireless efforts of the FBI Minneapolis Division and their colleagues around the country.”

“Preventing acts of terrorism is the FBI’s highest priority,” said Special Agent in Charge Thornton. “Disrupting individuals from traveling to join and fight for ISIL is an important part of our counter terrorism strategy. As a result of this investigation and arrests, these six Minnesota men who planned to travel and fight for ISIL will answer these charges in U.S. District Court instead of taking up arms in Syria. The FBI remains committed to ending both recruitment efforts and travel on the part of young people from Minnesota to fight overseas on behalf of terror groups. These arrests today signify this continued commitment.”

According to the criminal complaint and documents filed in court, the FBI has been conducting an investigation for the last 10 months into a group of individuals who have tried to join — and in some cases succeeded in joining — overseas designated foreign terrorist organizations. At least nine Minnesotans have now been charged as part of this conspiracy to provide material support to ISIL. The men are all alleged associates and friends of one another.

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force, U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Minnesota and the Counterterrorism Section of the Department of Justice National Security Division. Assistant Attorney General Carlin is also grateful to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of California and the FBI’s San Diego Division for their contributions to the investigation of this case.

The charges contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This content has been reproduced from its original source.


6/4/2016 Update

3 Somali-Americans Found Guilty of Trying to Join Islamic State

Haqhawo Qaasim held a photo on May 9 of Guled Omar, one of three defendants who pleaded not guilty to conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State.(Photo credit: Elizabeth Flores / Star Tribune via Associated Press)

By Jack Healey and Matt Furber

June 3, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS — Three Somali-American friends were found guilty on Friday of federal charges that they tried to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State, a plan that prosecutors said unfolded through propaganda videos and social media exchanges, and while they played basketball and paintball.

The verdicts against the three men — Guled Omar, 21; Abdirahman Daud, 22; and Mohamed Farah, 22 — came after an emotional 17-day trial in which onetime friends from Minnesota’s large Somali community testified against one another, family members squabbled in the hallways and spectators were occasionally ejected from the courtroom.

Abdirahman Yasin Daud, Mohamed Farah, Guled Omar

On Friday, the three defendants — who had all pleaded not guilty — sat impassively in dark suits as a court clerk began to read a litany of “guilty” verdicts, the most serious being conspiracy to commit murder overseas. They were also convicted of conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization. …

The convictions capped an investigation that began in 2014 and has led to six other young men pleading guilty to terrorism charges, and once again shined a harsh light on radicalization among young men in the country’s largest Somali community. Law-enforcement authorities have said that more than 20 young men from Minnesota have left to join the Shabab militant group in Somalia and that more than 15 have tried or succeeded in leaving to join the Islamic State.

At a news conference, United States Attorney Andrew M. Luger called the case “one of the most important trials” in recent years, one that illuminated the problem of terrorism recruiting “in our own backyard.”

“They were not misled by a friend or tricked into becoming terrorists,” Mr. Luger said. “Rather, they made a deeply personal decision. They wanted to fight for a brutal terrorist organization, kill innocent people and destroy their families in the process.”

Federal officials also rejected criticisms of one of their witnesses, a friend of the men named Abdirahman Bashir, who worked as a paid informant for federal investigators and provided hours of audio recordings of the defendants. At one point, when they were planning to reach Syria by first crossing into Mexico, one defendant said he wanted to “spit on America” at the border crossing, according to Minnesota Public Radio. …

Outside the courtroom, Omar Jamal, a Somali community activist, worried that the Somali community would find little solace or justice in guilty verdicts handed down by an all-white jury that was shown violent Islamic State propaganda videos. …

Read the story at the New York Times


8/26/2016 Update

I-35 Bridge Collapse Survivor Becomes 11th Twin Cities Man Charged with Supporting ISIL

Mohamed Roble (Photo: Star Tribune via U.S. Attorney’s Office)

By Stephen Montemayor

August 25, 2016

Mohamed Amiin Ali Roble, the young I-35 bridge collapse survivor thought to have used thousands of dollars in settlement money to travel to Syria and join ISIL, has become the 11th Twin Cities man charged with providing support to the terror group.

Roble was 10 years old when he became one of 145 people injured in the August 2007 bridge collapse. He collected $91,654 in settlement money on his 18th birthday. According to federal charges filed Wednesday, those funds financed his 2014 travel to join the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and helped pay for cars and weddings for fellow jihadists in Syria.

Federal authorities believe that Roble, who previously lived in south Minneapolis, is still alive in Syria.

The charges are part of an ongoing FBI investigation into terrorism recruitment in the Twin Cities Somali-American community. Nine other young Twin Cities men await sentencing after being convicted on charges related to their own attempts to join ISIL abroad. …

Read the full story at the Star Tribune



Afghan President: U.S. Forces Killed 16 Civilians

Thousands protest against government and U.S. over reports

Image: Afghans protest
Afghans burn a U.S. flag during a protest in Mehterlam, capital of Laghman province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009. The rally followed a Saturday raid in the province that the U.S. says killed 15 armed militants, including a woman with an RPG, but that Afghan officials say killed civilians. (Photo credit: Rahmat Gul / AP)

Reuters and The Associated Press via
January 25, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai on Sunday condemned a U.S. operation he says killed 16 Afghan civilians, while thousands of villagers denounced the American military during an angry demonstration, Reuters reported.

Karzai said the killing of innocent Afghans “is strengthening the terrorists.”

The issue of civilian casualties is sensitive in Afghanistan and has eroded public support for Karzai’s government and the foreign troops backing it. It has also caused a rift between Karzai and his Western allies more than seven years on since U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban’s government.

The operation causing the latest controversy happened this week in eastern Laghman province. The U.S. military said on Saturday that troops, backed by air support, had killed 15 militants in an overnight operation. …

Protests in heavy rain

Chanting slogans against Karzai and the United States, thousands of people took part in the protest in the town of Mehtar Lam, Laghman province, despite heavy rain.

“If the foreign troops do not put an end to their operations, we will launch jihad,” said Malik Hazrat, a protest leader. …

Nearly 700 civilians were killed in operations by foreign and Afghan forces against the militants until October last year, according to a national human rights body based on a U.N. estimate.

Karzai, who has repeatedly urged foreign troops to coordinate operations with his government, last week termed civilian deaths as a main source of Afghanistan’s instability.


Crash of 2 Helicopters in Iraq Kills 4 Americans

January 26, 2009

BAGHDAD — Two U.S. helicopters crashed Monday in northern Iraq, killing four American troops, the U.S. military said, in the deadliest single incident for U.S. forces in more than four months. …

Monday’s crash was the deadliest single incident for U.S. troops since Sept. 18, when seven American soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash in the southern desert west of Basra.

No precise location was given for the 2:15 a.m. crash, but a military spokesman said it occurred in Tamim province, which includes the oil-rich disputed city of Kirkuk. …

The deaths raised to at least 4,236 the number of U.S. service members who have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Heavy dependence on helicopters

The U.S. military relies heavily on helicopters and other aircraft to ferry troops, dignitaries and supplies to avoid the threat of ambushes and roadside bombs in Iraq.

At least 70 U.S. helicopters have gone down since the war started in March 2003, according to military figures. Of those, 36 were confirmed to have been shot down.

Most recently, a helicopter made a hard landing on Nov. 15 after hitting wires in the northern city of Mosul, killing two American soldiers.

The January 2005 crash of a U.S. Marine CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter in western Iraq claimed 31 lives – the biggest single U.S. loss of life in the Iraq war. …


Security Developments in Iraq

Following are security developments in Iraq on Jan. 25, 2009, as reported by Reuters.

BAGHDAD – A roadside bomb wounded four people, including two Iraqi soldiers, when it struck an Iraqi army patrol in Karrada district, central Baghdad, police said.

MOSUL – A roadside bomb killed a civilian and wounded two other people, including a policeman, when it blew up near a police patrol on Saturday in Mosul, 240 miles north of Baghdad, police said.

MOSUL – Three people were wounded on Saturday by a bomb hidden in an oven on a wooden cart at the side of the road in southeastern Mosul, police said.

BAGHDAD – The Iraqi army arrested six wanted men on Saturday who were caught trying to plant a roadside bomb in southern Baghdad, security spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi said. Moussawi said that under interrogation they had confessed to a plan to assassinate Baghdad’s governor Hussein al-Tahan with the bomb.

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