February 24th, 2012
12:06 PM ET

Somali al Qaeda's western reach

By Nic Robertson and Paul Cruickshank

At a summit in London Thursday on Somalia one of the most pressing concerns was that Islamist militancy being incubated in the failing state could result in terrorist plots being hatched against the West.  Earlier this month the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab formally merged its operations with al Qaeda.

"If the rest of us just sit back and look on, we will pay a price for doing so,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday.Countries like the UK, the United States, Denmark and Sweden who are grappling with integrating large Somali immigrant communities have been among the most concerned about the potential threat.

Last July a UK threat assessment stated that the threat from Somalia had significantly increased and that British militants who had traveled to the country were “returning to the UK to plan and conduct terrorist operations.”  According to one reported estimate more than a hundred British residents have traveled to fight and train in Somalia.

Many but not all of the Western militants traveling to Somalia have been Somalis.  Increasing pressure from drone strikes on militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan in the past several years made Somalia a more attractive destination for jihad for western militants of all backgrounds, according to counter-terrorism officials.

Danish and Swedish security services have also been particularly concerned because of the extensive presence of Al-Shabaab recruiters within Somali communities in their countries.  In January 2010 one of the group’s operatives attempted but failed to assassinate a Danish cartoonist, Al-Shabaab’s first terrorist plot in the West.

For Peter King, the Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, the Al-Shabaab-al Qaeda merger was a particularly unwelcome development.

“We have to work on the presumption that al Qaeda and Al-Shabaab would not just unite – they would join forces to attack the United States,” King told CNN in an interview in his Long Island home after the two groups merged.

King’s committee last July published a report on the Al-Shabaab threat to the United States.

It found that 40 Americans had joined the Somali militant group, around half of whom “remain unaccounted for and pose a direct threat to the U.S. homeland,” and uniquely amongst Islamist terrorist outfits, Al-Shabaab had established a direct recruitment network in Minneapolis and several other U.S. cities.

King told CNN he believed no terrorist group currently posed a greater threat to the United States homeland.

“Right now Al-Shabaab has to be our main concern because of the fact of such easy travel back and forth, because there is a large number of [U.S. recruits], and the fact that there is such open recruitment,” he told CNN.

“The ultimate threat would be that they would take the skills they learned in Somalia being trained, and come back to the U.S. as suicide bombers,” King said.

Some terrorism experts are skeptical that Al-Shabaab is close to establishing this capability.

Richard Barrett, the coordinator of the UN Al Qaida Sanctions Committee, and a former director of counter-terrorism operations for British intelligence, told CNN he doubts American Somali recruits to Al-Shabaab are poised to carry out terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

One reason, he says, is the significant intensification of FBI’s investigations into Al-Shabaab recruiting networks in the United States.

“I think they’ve got it buttoned up pretty much,” Barrett told CNN. “They’ve done their damndest to identify all the people who might have gone to Somalia.”

A second reason, Barrett says, is that American recruits in Somalia are not receiving the sort of training that would enable them to launch terrorist attacks back home.  U.S. counter-terrorism officials have yet to detect the sort of bomb-making training in Somalia that al Qaeda has offered some Western recruits in Pakistan.

And a third reason, according to Barrett, is that the current leader of Al-Shabaab – Mukhtar Abu Zubair – despite joining forces with al Qaeda, appears more inclined to focus his attention on Somalia and attacks in neighboring countries, including Kenya which last autumn sent troops to confront Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

While there was growing concern last year that Al-Shabaab may pool resources with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen to launch terrorist attacks of growing ambition outside Somalia, Barrett says that the two groups – particularly after the death of American-Yemeni cleric Anwar al Awlaki – are no longer cooperating so closely.

Barrett says that Al-Shabaab leaders may also calculate that an attack against the West will cost them support in the Somali community overseas, a group that's important to their fundraising efforts.

However with Al-Shabaab now on the defensive in Somalia and many within the group blaming the West for orchestrating their demise, concern is mounting in western capitals that factions within the group may lash out with terrorist attacks.  And the worry is after the merger with al Qaeda, the onus may now be on the group to demonstrate that it can participate in the terrorist network’s campaign of global terrorism.

“[The threat] may develop now, if Zawahiri says look I’ve finally recognized you as part of Al Qaeda, now you had better do something that’s global,” Barrett told CNN.

“In Somalia they have an opportunity with the foreign passport holders that could conceivably travel more easily,” said Barrett.

Another concern, despite intensified surveillance from U.S. law enforcement, is that Al-Shabaab recruiters may urge young Somalis living in the United States to launch attacks directly in America, instead of traveling to Somalia.

“You could have Al-Shabaab supporters in this country recruited, and then mobilized to carry out attacks in the country,” King told CNN.

King told CNN that despite the best efforts of U.S. law enforcement agencies to get a grip on the Al-Shabaab threat, intelligence gaps remained.

“The [Somali-American] leadership in too many cases is not cooperating with law enforcement and putting fear in to those who do want to cooperate with the police,” King told CNN.

Some U.S. officials have disputed that assessment.  FBI director Robert Mueller in Congressional testimony last year stated that members of the Somali-American community in Minnesota had been “very cooperative” in rooting out terrorism.

A joint FBI-DHS threat assessment earlier this month obtained by CNN found that “the announcement of the merger [with al Qaeda] could rally some already radicalized individuals to travel to Somalia to join Al-Shabaab or, over the longer term, to adopt al-Qa'ida’s focus on anti-western plotting.”

The radicalism of some Somali-American youngsters was dramatically demonstrated in November 2010 when Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was arrested after attempting to blow up a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon with a fake bomb given to him by FBI undercover agents.  According to U.S. authorites, Mohamud was radicalized by jihadist websites and was not directly connected to any jihadist group. He has pleaded not guilty.

Counter-terrorism officials are worried that Americans are being radicalized by Al-Shabaab’s online propaganda output, much of which is in English and is among the most sophisticated and savvy of any jihadist group.

Stevan Weine, a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois in Chicago who has conducted extensive field research in the Somali community in Minneapolis, told CNN late last year that not enough is being done to confront radicalization in the area at the community, local, or federal level.

“There continue to be voices of extremism on the internet and in the community that anybody can have access to, and no strong counter-narrative has really yet emerged.  What really concerns me is that so many young people have been touched by this message, some likely pretty far along in the process of being prepared for mobilization to go to fight in Somalia,” he told CNN.

According to Weine in many ways the experience of Somalis in Minneapolis more closely resembles that of North African immigrants living in the suburbs of Paris or British-Pakistanis living in the outer neighborhoods of London than the experience of the mostly upwardly mobile American Muslim community.

“The lack of integration of many Somalis in Minneapolis, poor living conditions, the fact that 60% live below the poverty line, and feelings of lack of purpose and discrimination have all created a fertile climate for Al-Shabaab’s recruiters, which the recent economic downturn has only aggravated,” Weine told CNN.

Despite these concerns, Al-Shabaab experts say only a radical fringe of Somali-Americans have embraced Al-Shabaab’s ideology, and their numbers have been shrinking because of the group’s failure to bring security to the country and their brutal imposition of Taliban-like rules on the local population. In recent months, according to the experts, many Somalis living in the West have been angered by its refusal to let in western aid agencies despite acute famine conditions in many parts of the country.

According to the recent FBI/DHS threat bulletin, U.S. officials expect the Al-Shabaab-al Qaeda merger to further diminish support for Al-Shabaab within the broader Somali diaspora community, some of whom supported the group because of its role in confronting Ethiopian troops who invaded the country in 2006.

Yet when it comes to the terrorist threat, it has always been the dangerous few that cause most concern to counter-terrorism officials. Now the group is effectively al Qaeda in Somalia, the FBI/DHS bulletin warned the merger may “increase Al-Shabaab’s appeal to homegrown violent extremists–including some ethnic Somalis–particularly those who are consumers of al-Qa'ida propaganda.”

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  6. Jay Noyd

    If you want to know why Somalia is so screwed up, just read the book INFIDEL by Ayan Hirsi Alli. She can give you a little insight of Klan allegiance and Islam in the 20th century and beyond.

    February 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Reply
  7. mipolitic

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    February 25, 2012 at 9:19 am | Reply
  8. Heather

    In response to "CouldSomeone – Could someone please tell me why we stopped Hitler again?" The US killed Hitler because we wanted Capitalism so that the Rich could take advantage of the poor and let the rich keep on becoming richer. Hitler wanted to free the world and bring peace by getting rid of capitalism and communism, all the corrupted politicians and wall-street bankers, and etc that we see today. Socialism was the world greatest thing that Hitler had created, fairness and equality for all.

    February 25, 2012 at 4:31 am | Reply
    • OregonTom

      Adolf Hitler was a fascist and a business man. A cold ,cruel business man with no sense of right or wrong.

      February 25, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Reply
    • GIR


      February 25, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Reply

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    February 25, 2012 at 3:25 am | Reply
  10. 911: israeli Mossad Op

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    February 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  11. CouldSomeone

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    February 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Reply
    • F B M

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      February 24, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  12. Guure

    As far as the Southern Somalia is concerned, the people who are destroying Somalia are from so call Somalilanders who wants to entertain clan statehood international recognition.

    There has been no time for political settlement in the south Somalia, rehabilitation or reconstruction and the population from southern Somalia have scattered around the world or killed and most of them do not know where their loved ones are and whether they are still living or dead. They live in fear under a heavy al-Shabab military presence, led by terrorist Ahmed abdi Godane, also known as terrorist Moktar Ali Zubeyr Godane, the Amir of al-Shabab from Somaliland.

    Ahmed Abdi Ow Mohamud Godane “Abu-Zubeyr” born in Hargeisa, ” so call Somaliland” the capital of north Somalia 10 July 1977. He is from Arab sub-clan in Isaq clan in northern Somalia . He had received a scholarship in Pakistan funded by terrorist Saudi blind millionaires, and now funded by Dhabshiil Money Transfer Company and Isak clan leaders as their candidat to represent the secessionist agenda/interests and they are very determined to keep Mogadishu busy and burning, in addition, the biggest Al Shabaab ideological centre in Somalia is the North of Somalia town Burao headed by a cleric called Sheikh Ali Warsame who facilitates the movement of funds, weaponry, and recruits from the Issak Clan. Also,the fact Sheikh Ali Warsame is the Grand Spiritual Leader of all AL Shabaab. This idea of religious extremism is actually foreign to the south Somalia, just imposed on them. The idea of AL Shabaab is originally the creation of the secessionists and is transported to the South of Somalia to serve and help their secession agenda—destruction of Somalia!

    Alshabab is funded and militarily armed by one-clan Somaliland – a secessionist faction. It was an open secret that secessionist Issak Clan called it self Somaliland engaged in the support of Mogadishu warlords for the purpose of keeping Southern Somalia in chaotic situation and as a result seek the sympathy of the International Community for themselves. The secessionist catch phrase continued to be “…Look at what is happening in the southern part of the country and how great we are doing?!!! We should be rewarded with a recognition and secession from Somalia”. Basically, their strategy is to keep valid the argument that says, “The southern Somalis are barbaric…we the secessionists are civilized, have peace, please give us clan-statehood recognition”. However, they should know better in that no one can easily fool the Unionist Somali People, and more so the International Community with its fast tools, resources, and intelligence.

    For example, Dahabshiil mony transfer company CEO Abdirashid Mohamed Said Duale has promised $2,000,000. US Dollars (Two Million Dollars) for anyone kills the great Somali Singer Ms. Sado Ali Warsame just been singing for unity of Somlia Therefore, it’s quite strange enough, when the financial and material aid granted to the secessionists by the Western Nations is channeled to AL Shabaab to keep them in their business. It’s more strange when the perpetrators (here the secessionists) claim to be the nice guys. How many times do we hear they make this statement? “As soon as, we are granted recognition we will solve the mess in the south, because, we know how to do it. We have our cards in order, the means, the knowhow, and the influence…”. When they are confronted with, why you do not solve it now? They would say, “…not now, first, we should be recognized as a sovereign clan-state called Somaliland.”

    Unfortunately, in essence, Southern Somalia is being held hostage and ransom by the internationell foreign terrorism , secessionists and thier strong ally Al Shabaab, because the two groups are against the internationally recognized Somalia Transitional Federal Government, peace and stability albeit for different reasons. Both of them are not prepared for negotiations, compromise, and settlement to exercise a give and take attitude in order to create a win-win situation for all, as they repeatedly declined to heed the calls into that direction

    February 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply


      February 24, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Reply
      • Warsame

        The northern secessionist saga is still puzzling the minds of the concerned and the spectators alike. Theirs is a disgraceful road never before traveled by any Somali, how many lines of ethics should be crossed before one's inner soul finds peace with a downfall of this magnitude? the separatist idea was originally proposed by individuals with clear intentions of using the North as a stepladder to Mogadishu based top leadership positions of the nation. The northern separatist group that high jacked the will of the good northern people, breath one and only one thing, which is tribalism.

        There is no ´ Somaliland´ because Somaliland is an illegitimate pseudo-state. The Somalis comprised within the undemocratic realm that is ruled by high traitors of the two sub clans of Iidoor and their puppets, the Somalis of the Somali-north are Somalis like all the rest.
        The people of north of Somali have no desire to fall prey to the tangled proxy war, like any other post conflict society
        In fact, when one adds up all the effort, and sacrifices required to create a clan state from scratch for a group of people who are not even a cohesive society, who don't have anything in common other than their hatred to all People of Somalia, then the whole enterprise does not make any sense whatsoever.

        There is no legitimate right of the two Iidoor sub clan gangs to reclaim north of Somalia sovereignty; there is no nation called Somaliland; the breakaway state controls part of the national Somali territory without any particular reason other than the preservation of peace at a moment of strife in the Somali South. This does not consist in any right to sovereignty.

        The idiotic animosity of the two paranoid sub clan of Isaq authorities against all Somalis, this is what stands at the basis of their effort of ´justification´ of their secessions. That’s pathetic and ludicrous, and it is totally rejected by the majority of the Somalis who are engulfed in north of Somalia, as they cultivate truly fraternal and patriotic feelings towards all the other Somalis, whom they will surely meet in a re-united state.

        This is the epicenter of the problem triggered by the existence and the unrepresentative government of the Anti-Somali authorities of two sub clan of Isaq in north of Somalia. Certainly, the original issue remains that there cannot be secessionist states among the same nation; but the formation of an anti-national and anti-patriotic state is an extreme shame for any country. The majority of Somalian population in north are unhappy with the undeservedly humiliating policies of their pseudo-president In fact, there was always a great national and cultural space, which was peremptorily colonized by Italy and Britain, That is all! That division was meaningless and insignificant for the Noble History of Somalia.
        The Somali people witnessing the development of this unholy alliance and documented the subsequent mayhem and destruction that it left in its wake.
        Here are some of the evidences between these two partners unholy dual Alliance.
        Chaotic terrorist Hassan Dahir Aweys gives his endorsement, fatwa that the Somalian ' so he call them infidels' been attacked and killed in sool and sanaag killed.
        So called himself now Sheikh Indhacadde a Mogadishu based chaotic warlord boasted on BBC Somali Service that Lasacanod invasion was a successful reprisal against Somalian government ”Somalian people”.
        The terrorist Al-shababbusinessmen who escaped Mogadishu found sanctuary in Hargeisa.
        Hargaysa administration propaganda and saber- rattling against Somalian people is a common diet. Those Who Feed Off Anarchy Fuel It.

        February 25, 2012 at 10:15 am |
      • ccarracing

        Your caps lock is on

        February 25, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  13. Puntite

    The Islamist and the armed group al-Shabaab is subjecting inhabitants of southern Somalia to killings, cruel punishments, and repressive social control.
    Al-Shabaab continue to conduct indiscriminate attacks, killing and wounding numerous civilians in Somalia. Harsh punishments including amputations and floggings, which are meted out regularly and without due process. People accused of being traitors or Somalia sympathizers – often on flimsy pretexts – face execution or assassination. Islamist foreigner from Pakistan, afganistan and arabs with their somalian henchmen has used unrelenting repression and brutality, The population under Islamist and al-Shabaab’s control is paying a very steep price.
    Many local al-Shabaab authorities devote extraordinary energy to policing the personal lives of women and preventing any mingling of the sexes.
    Al-Shabaab has subjected young men and boys to abuses that include forced military recruitment and strict social control, Beatings or public humiliations are commonly meted out to men , indiscriminate warfare, terrifying patterns of repression, and brutal acts of targeted violence on a daily basis.”
    Alshabab fighters regularly fire mortar rounds indiscriminately into populated neighborhoods controlled by the transitional government. They frequently fire from residential areas in apparent hope of attracting retaliatory attacks that will damage the image of the transitional government and AU forces. Al-Shabaab and other opposition fighters threaten and kill civilians they see as sympathetic to somalia government. Al-Shabaab has also carried out devastating suicide attacks against civilians, including one at a university graduation ceremony in Mogadishu that killed at least 22 people in December 2009.
    The fighting devastated Mogadishu, drove hundreds of thousands of Somalis from their homes, and spawned a massive humanitarian crisis that continues to worsen and the violence continues unabated.
    None somalian, anti-Somalia unity has figured out how they can control Somalia by dividing them and antagonize each other to the point that they do not listen and understand but destroy each other. If they love so much sharia as law and accepted that way of life, they can all move to countries that have it ,They wont be missed in Somalia.

    February 24, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Reply

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