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The Somali-US Experience
After years of debate over whether it could happen, started almost immediately after the 9/11 attacks, there is a clear case of a radical Islamist group actively and successfully recruiting inside the United States: the case of al Shabaab (the Youth) in Somalia.

The most famous case was that 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. The group has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States, and it has close links to al-Qaeda.

As the Washington Post reports, this is becoming an increasing worry to U.S. officials, in part because the use of a U.S. passport is so valuable.

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.

This represents a movement toward the "Europeanization" of the Islamist threat in the United States, where terrorists recruit among the disasporas in an adopted country (or where the young people are second generation and feeling lost between two worlds.) The recruits, with the requisite language skills and knowledge of how society functions, are far easier to hide plain site than foreigners would.

While there have been American recruits in al Qaeda and elsewhere, most have been white American converts, rather than targeted members of an immigrant community. The fact that those recruited appear to have been radicalized in the United States, through mosques, individuals, or the Internet, shows there is a recruitment network.

One does not simply leave Minnesota for Somalia and accidentally hook up with a radical Islamist group in a country in chaos. The recruits have to know where and how to move, and have contacts that guide them along the way.

If, rather than becoming suicide bombers in Somalia, they are trained, further indoctrinated and choose to the United States, their entrance would be unremarkable. Using valid U.S. passports, simply unstamped at border crossings (which are virtually non-existent in Somalia, and can be avoided in many places), there is no reason to know who or what they are.

There are no doubt radicalizing factors among young people, primarily men in this case, that help push them down a certain path. But there are also many pull factors, which are often not acknowledged.

It is too simplistic to think that if one is unhappy and unemployed that one is driven to radical Islam. Rather, the counter-narrative of the radical groups has to be given some currency, through discussion groups, internet chat rooms, contact in the mosques etc.

It is this counter-narrative, one that explains (and this is the dangerous game the Muslim Brotherhood groups play) that a Muslim should be alienated from the society around him, should despise the society in which he lives because it is corrupt and sinful, etc., that provide the context for the person to channel his feelings.

The Somali case shows that the radicalization in the United States can work well enough to entice people to take up the jihad elsewhere. It is a short step to waging jihad back here.
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