The FBI is investigating reports that one of the men responsible for a suicide truck-bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia, last week, which killed 21 people, was a Seattle man who may have been recruited from the local Somali community, according to federal law-enforcement sources.
Agents are coordinating with immigration officials to track down the man’s relatives, who live in the area, two sources said.
The man’s name and his ties to the United States were found on a Somali-language Web site affiliated with al-Shabaab–a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaida–that has claimed responsibility for last week’s attack on the African Union troops. The Web site claimed the man had lived in the United States as recently as 2007. A senior federal source confirmed the bureau thinks he is a young man–in his 20s–from the Seattle area.
If the report is accurate, it would the second time in a few months that a member of the Seattle Somali community–the fourth largest in the country–has been tied to terrorists.
And this is the first time that federal officials have acknowledged that the sort of recruitment efforts that have lured as many as 20 young men from the Minneapolis area to fight in Somalia may be at work in Seattle. At least three men from Minneapolis have died, including 27-year-old Shirwa Ahmed, who blew up himself and 29 others in a suicide bombing at a United Nations checkpoint last fall.
In July, a 25-year-old graduate of Seattle’s Roosevelt High School, Abdifatah Yusuf Isse, pleaded guilty in Minnesota to providing support to terrorists in connection with U.S. recruitment efforts by al-Shabaab. His attorney said in court filings that Isse was being recruited to be a suicide bomber.
Last year, Ruben Shumpert of Seattle, an African-American convert to Islam, was reportedly killed in a U.S.-supported rocket attack near Mogadishu after he fled to Somalia, in part, to avoid prison after pleading guilty to gun and counterfeiting charges here. He was reportedly fighting for a group linked to al-Shabaab and al-Qaida in Somalia, according to news reports and federal officials here.
The Seattle office of the FBI recently held an outreach meeting with some Somali community leaders in SeaTac hoping to make inroads into the community, according to KING-TV.
“What is clear now, though, is that Minneapolis is no longer the center of this,” Jamal said. “Seattle is now pushed to the front. There are sympathizers and recruiters of al-Shabaab in your city.”
The FBI believes “outside influences” are at work in Seattle’s Somali community, trying to recruit and radicalize young men to carry out jihad in their homeland.
Those influences–whether they be radical Islamic Web sites or outside recruiters–are “a danger to the Somali community, and the Seattle community at large,” Special Agent Fred Gutt of the FBI’s Seattle field office said Thursday.
Just how much of a danger is what Sarah Farah, the director of the Somali Community Services of Seattle, hopes to find out at a community meeting where she’s planning to talk about the recent report that a young Seattle man killed 21 peacekeepers and civilians last week when he set off a suicide truck-bomb at a checkpoint in Mogadishu. “We want to know, ‘Is it happening here? Has anyone heard of it?’ Sometimes you never know it’s coming into your community until the last minute and it’s already happened,” said Farah, who has yet to set a date for the meeting.
Others who work with the thousands of Somali immigrants in Seattle say disaffected young people are vulnerable targets for recruiters.
“Our public school systems are simply ill-equipped to handle children who have spent most of their lives in refugee camps,” Buddy Smith, 39, an after-school volunteer at the Somali Community Services Coalition office near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, wrote in an e-mail. The coalition is separate from Farah’s group.
In an interview, Smith said many Somalis get frustrated and drop out of school, making them turn to gangs or become targets for militants seeking to recruit them.
In Minnesota, as many as 20 young Somali men are believed to have traveled to Somalia to fight, most for a group called al-Shabaab, a terrorist organization with links to al-Qaida. Three have died, including 27-year-old Shirwa Ahmed, who blew up himself and 29 others in a suicide bombing at a United Nations checkpoint last fall.
Now, the FBI and immigration agents are looking at a Seattle man in the bombing last week, for which al-Shabaab has claimed credit. The FBI did not release his name.
The man’s parents live in the Seattle area, according to Omar Jamal, a Minnesota community activist who said he has spoken to other relatives. They have refused to be interviewed, he said.
The Seattle man would be the third from this area linked to the violence in Somalia or efforts to recruit Americans to fight there.
“These are hardworking people. They came here to make a better life for themselves. They don’t want to go back” to their war-torn country, Gutt said. “So something is drawing these young people back. It’s not their families. It’s something from the outside.”