The Blog

Al Shabaab and Domestic Radicalization

11:06 AM, Jul 27, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Today's House Homeland Security Committee on al Shabaab and domestic radicalization features this testimony from WEEKLY STANDARD contributor Tom Joscelyn: 

Al Shabaab

Al Shabaab: Recruitment and Radicalization within the Muslim American Community and the Threat to the Homeland

Chairman King, Ranking Member Thompson and other members of the Committee, I want to thank you for inviting me to speak today about Al Shabaab and the threat it poses to the U.S. Homeland and American interests. I would also like to thank my colleague at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and The Long War Journal, Bill Roggio, who helped me prepare this written testimony.

My testimony will focus primarily on Shabaab’s ties to al Qaeda and the risk of Shabaab attacking America. Shabaab’s ability to win new recruits inside the United States and the West is particularly disturbing. The possibility that an American Shabaab recruit may return from Somalia as part of a terrorist operation is obviously a major concern for intelligence and law enforcement professionals.

Before getting to the heart of my testimony, however, I want to make a general point about Shabaab’s reach here and its terror inside Somalia. It is obvious that a majority of Somali- Americans do not support Shabaab or its agenda. Most Somalis came to this country to start a new life and get away from the poverty and war that has ravaged their nation. At the same time, many of the Somalis who remained in their home country have resisted Shabaab’s reign of terror. Indeed, there is great tension between the Sufi version of Islam that is prevalent among Somali clans and Shabaab’s perverse ideology. Many Sufi leaders inside Somalia were forced to abandon their peaceful roots to fight Shabaab. In fact, the victims of Shabaab’s terror are predominantly Muslims in Somalia who do not adhere to Shabaab’s horrible ideology. Shabaab has also undertaken a deliberate program to desecrate and destroy Sufi mosques and shrines.

The resistance to Shabaab’s version of Islam inside Somalia can be seen even in al Qaeda’s propaganda. In December 2008, Anwar al Awlaki called on Muslims to financially support Shabaab and prayed for the group's success inside Somalia. While cheering on Shabaab's efforts to implement Sharia law, Awlaki also advised the group to be patient with Muslims who “are suffering from the illnesses of tribalism, ignorance, and a campaign of defamation of sharia.” Awlaki added, “Therefore you need to win the hearts and minds of the people and take them back to their fitrah [natural predisposition].” 

In other words, Shabaab does not represent the “hearts and minds” of most Somalis, either here in America or abroad.

Shabaab has, unfortunately, wooed some young men from America to Somalia. And in a few cases, these recruits have launched suicide attacks. The first known American suicide bomber, Shirwa Ahmed, blew himself up in Somaliland as part of a Shabaab attack in October 2008. Since then, there have been at least two other reports of Somali-Americans who were convinced to become Shabaab suicide bombers.

The willingness of these recruits to die for Shabaab’s cause creates an opportunity for the al Qaeda terror network and a threat to American security. Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, al Qaeda has consistently attempted to recruit Muslims living in the West for its operations. In 2002, for example, a convert to Islam named Jose Padilla was arrested in Chicago after returning from Pakistan, where he conspired with senior al Qaeda leaders to attack targets inside the U.S. Al Qaeda recognized that by relying on recruits from the West it could more easily defeat the elaborate layers of security put in place since late 2001. Padilla’s case is hardly unique. Al Qaeda recruits living in the UK and elsewhere have been used in attacks in their adopted homelands. Al Qaeda’s July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks in London, for example, utilized British citizens of Pakistani descent who traveled to Pakistan for terrorist training.

It is possible that Shabaab’s recruits could be used in a similar manner. However, there is great confusion here in the U.S. as to whether or not Shabaab is really a part of al Qaeda’s international terrorist network. Most press accounts accurately note that Shabaab is “linked” to or “affiliated” with al Qaeda. My view is that the link is much stronger than some counterterrorism analysts realize. And this link goes far beyond the two organizations’ identical ideological roots.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 15 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers