Wednesday, January 21, 2009

al-Shabaab and the Minneapolis Connection

The inauguration is over, the pageantry concluded and I am sure that very few Americans took note of one small reference to threats to the inaugural ceremony. However, one specific threat caught my interest, particularly as a Minnesota resident. Fox, as well as other networks mentioned one threat that had been investigated by the Secret Service:

“Authorities monitored a rush of intelligence leads Tuesday at the largest security operation in presidential inauguration history, including a possible threat from an East Africa radical Islamic terrorist group.Law enforcement and intelligence officials received information that people associated with a Somalia-based group, al-Shabaab, might try to travel to the U.S. with plans to disrupt the inauguration, according to a joint FBI/Homeland Security bulletin issued Monday night.”

Probably for many of you, al-Shabaab is simply another in a long list of Islamic terrorist organizations that are operating on the other side of the world, however, this is one organization with ties that hit a bit closer to home for many Minneapolis and greater Minnesota residents.
For a wide variety of reasons, Minnesota is home to the United States largest Somali population. Many of these immigrants have fled their homelands as refugees from the unrest (perhaps best referenced by the book and film, “Black Hawk Down”) In fact, on Lake Street in Minneapolis, near the West Bank of the University of Minnesota and the tragedy of the 35W Bridge collapse over 120 Somali owned and operated business can be found. Unfortunately, also in this area is a high rise apartment complex locally nicknamed “The Crack Stacks” for the poverty of the Somalian residents of the building. Many of those that have fled from Somalia are former doctors and lawyers who are now reduced to filling jobs of manual labor and live lives of poverty.

Even more recently the Somalian community has been rocked by the dissappearance of many of its teenage and young adult males, estimated at as many as 2 dozen “missing boys” have been lured back to the very country their parents have fled, by members of al-Shabaab to execute terrorist attacks in Africa. Said of one bombing:
“It’s believed that one of the suicide bombers was 26-year old Shirwa Ahmed, a naturalized U.S. citizen and resident of Minneapolis, home to a substantial Somali émigré population. Ahmed moved to Minnesota in 1996 and graduated high school there before becoming one of over a dozen young Somali men to disappear from the area in recent months. All are believed to have returned to Somalia to join the fighting, possibly as suicide bombers. FBI officials will not confirm whether an investigation is under way.”

While the FBI is officially remaining non-commital on the issue, according to local news on Thanksgiving weekend several Somali visitors were prevented from returning to Somalia at the Minneapolis- St. Paul Airport, although they were not officially arrested. However, FBI officials returned the remains of one of the “missing boys” to his parents. Reports one site: "The FBI wouldn’t even confirm if a teenager whose remains the agency returned to his family last month was one of five suicide bombers who attacked government and foreign installations in Somalia, killing 24. Yet almost everyone in the community believes that 19-year-old Shirwa Ahmed, a University of Minnesota student, was indeed a culprit in those attacks."

The same site also reports: “Special agent E. K. Wilson of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) office in Minneapolis wouldn’t confirm or deny the fate of the “missing boys,” as they are known in the community. He would only say that his agency is aware that an unspecified number of Somali youths have traveled from throughout the United States, including Minneapolis, to “potentially fight in Somalia.””

My husband mentioned that during the day of the inauguration there were several helicopters patrolling the air above downtown Minneapolis, and I am certainly not claiming that this was somehow associated with the perceived threat. However, it did make me wonder what sort of actions were taking place to asses this threat, and how much of this investigation was taking place in my new home.

I am so sad for the families of these teenagers, especially because of all of the unanswered questions associated with the disappearance of their children. They fled Somalia in the hopes of providing a better future for their children here in the United States, and because of the actions of a few men have gone back to Somalia and are choosing in some cases to die there. I have in no way exhausted this topic, and I urge you to look at some of the links I have provided. Much of what has been written is opinion-based, and there is conflict even among the Somali population of whether or not as many boys have gone missing as has been reported and where the actual destinations of some of these teenagers has been.

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