The suicide bombing last weekend in Mogadishu–allegedly by a Somali American from Minnesota–has highlighted the important role played by U.S. citizens in the operations of al-Shabab, the Islamic terrorist organization battling the government in the war-torn east African nation.
If it is confirmed that Abdisalan Hussein Ali was one of two suicide bombers who attacked an African Union base, killing themselves and eight others, it will have been the third suicide bombing carried out in Somalia by Americans since 2008.
And U.S. officials tell NBC News that at least two members of the al-Shabab hierarchy are American-born, 20-something college dropouts, one of whom may be in the group’s “inner circle.”
U.S. officials and counterterrorism analysts estimate there are at least 40 Americans fighting with al-Shabab in Somalia, as well as another 200 with passports that would permit them to enter the U.S. without a visa.
Many of the al-Shabab soldiers are Somali-Americans, many of them from the Minneapolis area, like Ali. The two leaders are not. They are Arab-Americans who traveled to Somalia in the latter part of the last decade and began rising in the ranks of the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group.
One–San Diego-native Jehad Marwan Mustapha–is believed to be part of the group’s senior leadership. The other, Omar Hammami, is a unit commander.