The New Terrorist Threat

, Amanda Winkler, Leave a comment

The center of the international terrorist network has apparently shifted to Somalia but its target remains the same—the United States. “Over the weekend, U.S. law enforcement nailed a Somali national after he attempted to blow up an improvised explosive device at a Christmas tree lighting celebration at Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Oregon,” Jim Kouri wrote in The Examiner on November 29, 2010. “FBI agents and Portland cops thwarted the teenager’s plot to blow up a van full of explosives at a crowded venue.”

“ According to a report obtained by the National Association of Chiefs of Police’s Terrorism Committee, the Somali teen’s IED was a fake device supplied by undercover agents and civilians were never in danger.” Kouri is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police.

Al-Shabaab now controls most of south and central Somalia. This fact may seemingly have little importance to Americans, but David Shinn, an adjunct professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University explains in a recent essay why this knowledge is significant in terms of US national security.

Al-Shabaab was declared a terrorist organization by the US State Department in 2008. It has pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda and issued a call for Muslim men to join the jihad cause.  Closer to its base, it threatens the existence of the current Somalian political infrastructure, known as the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Al Qaeda gave credibility to this terrorist organization when bin Laden devoted one of his 2009 video messages to recognizing al-Shabaab’s significant role in global jihad.

Unfortunately, al-Shabaab has borrowed many tactics and techniques from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Like al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab has developed an effective communications strategy, using the internet and video for recruitment purposes. This communication technique has allowed them to increase their foreign recruits; these recruits, especially those from Iraq and Afghanistan, play an important role in teaching al-Shabaab these deadly tactics.

Foreign recruits, however, are not just limited to the Near East. Al Shabaab’s recruitment from the diaspora has been one of the most effective recruitment programs among militant Islamic groups. While it has certainly been successful in the Near East, it has also recruited militants from Europe, North America, Africa, and Australia. Although there are only 2 million Somalis living in the diaspora, the recruitment rate has been relatively successful especially in the United Kingdom and US.

In early 2007, recruitment began in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area which is the location of the largest Somali population in the US. Other cities include Portland, ME, Columbus, OH, and Seattle and Boston. Initially these recruitment programs went unnoticed by the US government. These recruits run the gamut of different backgrounds from former gang members to good students and seemingly upstanding citizens. They seem to all have been motivated by a mix of politics and religion. The recruitment numbers are, however, relatively low compared to the number of Somalis who live in the US.

It is now difficult to ignore signs of al-Shabaab’s international ambitions and resemblance to other prominent Islamic insurgencies. Many al-Shabaab leaders hold press conferences in Arabic rather than the more common Somali language. The refusal to hold conferences in their own regional dialect is a sure sign of al-Shabaab’s connection to its terrorist counterparts in the Near East as well as its global ambitions. Known as the “masked men” because they hide their faces with red scarves, al-Shabaab is looking more and more like the Taliban of the 1990s according to Shinn.

Amanda Winkler is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.

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