At a House Homeland Security Committee hearing Wednesday morning on the domestic threat of al Shabaab, Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) warned that the Somali terrorist organization could carry out a terrorist attack in America and that it should not be underestimated.
“With al Shabaab’s large cadre of American jihadis and unquestionable ties to al Qaeda, particularly its alliance with AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], we must face the reality that al Shabaab is a growing threat to our homeland,” King said in his opening remarks. Wednesday’s hearing complemented the committee’s release of a “major investigation” (available here) into al Shabaab’s recruitment practices, which finds that at least 40 Muslim Americans and 20 Muslim Canadians have joined al Shabaab.
“Three Muslim-Americans became suicide bombers, such as Shirwa Ahmed from Minneapolis, the first confirmed American suicide bomber in our history,” King continued. “There are also radicalized converts like al Shabaab commander Omar Hammami who was raised a Baptist in Alabama, and who has repeatedly threatened the U.S. homeland.”
Ahmed Hussen, national president of the Canadian Somali Congress and a security analyst, testified this morning. Hussen praised Canadian and American efforts to prevent major terrorist attacks but highlighted what he considered an important missing piece. “There has not been an attempt to counter the toxic anti-Western narrative that creates a culture of victimhood in the minds of members of our community,” Hussen said. A minority of Somalis living in America and Canada, he explained, has become alienated and risk radicalization by groups like al Shabaab. “Our religion is not incompatible with Western values,” Hussen said.
Another witness, Thomas Joscelyn pointed to the close relationship between al Shabaab and al Qaeda. Joscelyn, a terrorist expert from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a WEEKLY STANDARD contributor, quoted he prominent leader of al Shabaab, Mukhtar Robow, from a 2008 interview Robow gave to the Los Angeles Times. “Al Qaeda is the mother of the holy war in Somalia. Most of our leaders were trained in Al Qaeda camps. We get our tactics and guidelines from them. Many have spent time with Osama bin Laden.”
Hassen went even further on this point. “It’s inaccurate to talk about the connection between al Shabaab and al Qaeda,” he said later in the hearing. “They’re integrated.”
W. Anders Folk, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Minnesota, also offered his thoughts this morning to the committee. As assistant U.S. Attorney, Folk served as the prosecutor for the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council in Minnesota, investigating al Shabaab’s recruitment activities in the state. Many Somali Americans targeted for recruitment, Folk explained, fly to Somalia as teenagers and return radicalized. “These [are] young men, in the beginning of their lives as adults, whose future[s] as Americans…[were] stolen from them by the rhetoric of al Shabaab,” Folk said. Al Shabaab, he testified, recruits heavily using online videos, including rap-style music videos, and video celebrations of the “martyrdom” of al Shabaab recruits.