Al-Shabaab in Somalia: A Magnet for American Jihadists?
by THE EDITOR
August 5, 2010
Shaker Masri’s Arrest
Yesterday, news came that a U.S. citizen from Chicago was charged with plotting to go to Somalia to join the Islamist terror group, Al-Shabaab. Twenty-six-year old Shaker Masri was born in Alabama but did not grow up inside America. He returned to the USA when he was 18.
He was arrested on Tuesday evening hours before he was about to board a flight to California, but was intending to continue to Somalia, an FBI official stated. Masri worked for a company that translated Korans into English and distributed them for free. Shaker Masri and had been arrested after being involved in conversations over several weeks with an FBI informant who also worked at the publishing company’s warehouse, which was based in Addison, Illinois. The informant had a “wire” and these allowed their conversations to be recorded.
Masri apparently claimed that he was an admirer of Anwar al-Awlaki the American-born Yemeni terror master who had been an imam at the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Virginia, and had advised Fort Hood killer Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan and also the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
Associated Press via AOLNews states that:
Masri suggested to a confidential informant that he "personally knew" the man who was arrested in Virginia, according to court documents.
Last month in Virginia, Zachary Chesser, who was known for posting an online warning to the creators of "South Park" that they risked death by mocking the Prophet Muhammad, was arrested and charged with offering himself as a fighter to al-Shabab.
Masri apparently told the informant that he wanted to wear a suicide vest until requested to detonate it, and said he did not expect to reach 30. Masri had planned to go to Mexico to engage in terror training before going to Somalia. The full list of charges can be viewed here. According to the deposition of Special Agent Robert C. Parker of the FBI’s Chicago Field Division, the CS (Cooperating Source) was paid between $40,000 and $45,000. Masri had planned to go to Somalia, accompanied by the CS. In Robert Parker’s deposition statement is found the following:
49. In response to the CS's inquiries about what would transpire once they reached
Somalia, Masri stated that there are two groups in southern Somalia, which he identified as alMuhajiroun and al-Ansar. Masri explained that al-Muhajiroun was the group for foreign fighters, while al-Ansar was for local militants. Masri explained that they would be placed with al Muhajiroun.
The CS then asked Masri whether both groups were part of al-Shabaab. Masri
indicated that they were. He similarly stated that both groups were part of al-Qaeda.
Masri is being held without bond until August 9, when he reappears in court. Though Masri made mention of knowing Zacchary Chessler, the FBI maintains that the two had not made direct contact. Masri was also engage in a long-distance relationship with a woman in London, who gave testimony to the FBI:
"It appeared to her that he never intended to build a life with her but, instead, at best, to marry her, get her pregnant and then 'emigrate for the sake of God,' 'to learn more about his (religion)’, and then disappear, ‘never to return’."
A few days ago, on July 31, Masri was apparently seen watching four US soldiers and said he wished he could blow them up in a suicide attack. The CS asked why he would waste his life on only four soldiers, and Masri reviewed his position, suggesting that he wished he had the chance to blow up a busload of soldiers.
The Somali Islamist “Cause”
The Somali insurgency has already attracted many US-based jihadists. Masri was not the first Alabama-born person to be indicted on charges of being involved with the terrorist group Al-Shabaab.
Omar Hammami (pictured) had been from Daphne, Alabama. Born in May 1984, he had a Christian mother and domineering Syrian Muslim father, but he had been raised as a Southern Baptist. A trip made to Damascus, Syria, in the summer of 1998 had made an impression upon him, and gradually he began to drift towards Islam. He became involved with Salafists, moved to Toronto and married a woman of Somali ancestry. With his wife and daughter, Hammami had gone to Egypt, where he met the Islamist radical Daniel Maldonado.
Maldonado had converted to Islam in 2000 and had gone with his family to Egypt in November 2005. In Egypt, Maldonado introduced Hammami to underground mosques. In November 2006, accompanied by Maldonado, Hammami had gone to Somalia, and then disappeared. It is believed that shortly after going to Somalia, he became a member of Al-Shabaab. He reappeared in March 2009 as Abu Mansour al-Amriki (the “American”) in a jihadist video, made in January of 2009, in which he said with a smile:
“The only reason we're staying here away from our families away from the cities... away from, you know, ice, candy bars all these other things - is because we are waiting to meet with the enemy…. We’re waiting for the enemy to come….We’re going to kill all of them.”
In September 2009, Hammami was indicted in his absence for providing material support to terrorists.
Robert Mueller, head of the FBI, gave a speech on March 28, 2007, in which he spoke of Maldonado, the man who had gone with Hammami into Somalia:
“Legats coordinate international investigations, such as the arrest of suspected terrorist Daniel Maldonado. Maldonado, an American citizen who converted to the Muslim faith, moved from Houston to Egypt in November 2005. He then travelled to Somalia to practice what he called “true Islam.”
According to the indictment, while in Mogadishu, Maldonado participated in a jihadist training program that included weapons and explosives. He said that he was willing to fight on behalf of Al Qaeda and even offered to act as a suicide bomber.
Kenyan military authorities captured Maldonado in January. Members of the Houston Joint Terrorism Task Force transported him back to the United States.
This case illustrates the continued need for international and interagency cooperation. Without the assistance of our counterparts in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia, Maldonado might have disappeared, only to resurface as an active terrorist.”
Arrested in January 2007, Maldonado had grown up in Pelham, New Hampshire, and had converted to Islam in Methuen, Massachusetts. He gave three statements to the FBI. In a handwritten affidavit, he mentioned that he heard Somalia was becoming a “true Islamic state.” Maldonado wrote:
"I would be able to live, pray, act, dress and be a Muslim without anyone yelling at me, calling me names, refusing me jobs or apartments.”
On Saturday June 5, 2010, two arrests were made at JFK airport, Queens, New York. These were Mohamed Hamoud Alessa, 20, of North Bergen, New Jersey, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, 26, of Elmwood Park, New Jersey. The pair were said to be intending to travel to Cairo, Egypt, and from there to make their way to Somalia to join Al Shabaab.
Alessa and Almonte had been described as losers with no purpose who had become converts to Islam. They apparently thought that through Islam they would get “dignity and honor”. In undercover surveillance, Alessa was heard stating: “I'm going to get a gun. I'm the type of person to use it at any time. I'll have more bodies on it than the hairs on my beard.”
Chesser and Revolution Muslim
Zachary A. Chesser (pictured), who had allegedly been an associate of Shaker Masri, grew up in Fairfax Virginia. In April, using the alias Abu Talhah Al-Amerikee, Chesser had written on a website called Revolution Muslim what has been seen by many as a threat to the lives of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of “South Park.” After their animated series featured Mohammed, the founder of Islam, hidden inside a bear suit, Chessler wrote:
“what they are doing is stupid, and they will probably wind up like Theo van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of reality of what will likely happen to them.”
Theo van Gogh had been murdered on an Amsterdam street on November 2, 2004, by Mohamed Bouyeri, after he “insulted” Islam by projecting verses from the Koran onto the bare flesh of women in his documentary called “Submission.”
Chesser was arrested last month and charged with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group. His indictment sheet, dated July 21, 2010, can be viewed here. Chesser was not charged for the comments on Revolution Muslim website. He allegedly confessed to FBI agents of having links to Al Shabaab, and had said he had intended to travel to Somalia to join the terrorist group. He allegedly said he was “willing to die for Islam.”
On Monday, July 27, Chesser was told by U.S. Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis that he was a danger to his own family and the community, and that he would remain in jail until his trial. On July 10, Chesser had been prevented from boarding a flight to Somalia. With him was his 7 month old son. Judge Davis said:
“An individual who has no concern for his own life probably has little concern for the lives of others. It's all right if he wants to put his life in danger, but if he's not going to look out for his 7-month-old son, then this court is going to do so.”
John Gibbs, the prosecutor, claimed that after he discovered that he was on a no-fly list, Chesser had – on July 21 – met with FBI officials and offered himself up as an informant, if he were allowed to fly to Somalia.
An Exodus of Malcontents
Various locations have been seen as Meccas for jihadists. Chechnya was a popular location until Russian federal authorities made it more difficult for foreigners to enter the federal republic. Afghanistan became a magnet for many European jihadists, and some Americans, and then Iraq after the invasion of March, 2003. Since Somali Islamists briefly managed to take control of Mogadishu, capital of Somalia, on June 5, 2006, jihadist interest in Somalia has increased. The Islamists lost control of Somalia, and the conflict has continued. Ethiopia, at the behest of the UN-appointed transitional government, had helped to remove the Islamists from power, and they retreated into splinter groups. Since then, there has been a battle for control of various towns and regions. Al-Shabaab, being one of the most brutal factions, has gained primacy among the Islamist insurgents.
One of the Islamists who had been head of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that had established itself in 2006 was Hassan Dahir Aweys, who had formerly headed the terrorist group Al-Itihaad Al-Islamiya (AIAI). Aweys had been leading a private army for some years in the Horn of Africa.
Recently, there have been attempts within Somalia for the current group that Aweys heads - Hizbul Islam – to combine forces with Al Shabaab to fight the UN-appointed “transitional government” of Somalia. Those talks which were taking place with Aweys and Musa Mansoor of Al-Shabaab, have foundered.
In 2006, Al Shabaab had been led by Muktar Ali Robow (Abu Mansoor) and had emerged as a splinter group from the Islamic Courts Union, led at that time by Sharif Ahmed with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys as a deputy. Since January 2009, Sharif Ahmed has been the elected president of Somalia.
Aweys came to power as one of the many “warlords” who emerged in the chaos that ensued after the dictator Siad Barre had been ousted. Initially he had been a supporter of Al Shabaab, but his own ambitions for power appear to be blocking agreements between his group and Al Shabaab. The current leader of Al Shabaab is unknown, but it has been suggested that he is Sheik Mohamed Mukhtar Abdirahman, aka Abu Zubeyr.
Because of its open links with Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab has attracted the interest of foreign jihadists who had initially had been going to the region as US forces were involved in Somalia. On June 3, 2007, Somali authorities announced that six foreign fighters had been killed in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia. One of the bodies carried an American passport, and another was said to be British. The alleged insurgents were hit by a US missile. The other combatants were from Sweden, Yemen and Pakistan.
In January 2007, four British men were arrested in Kenya on the border with Somalia, suspected of going to fight jihad. The men were from London. They were released without charge in February.
Between 2006 and 2008, about two dozen men from the Somali communities of Minneapolis, Minnesota, had disappeared, and it was assumed that they had gone to fight in the Somali jihad. Some of these were said to have worshipped at mosque in the city, called the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center. This mosque has a high following, as the largest mosque in Minneapolis.
On October 28, 2008, one of these “disappeared” men drove an explosives-laden vehicle at a crowd of Ethiopian soldiers in northern Somalia, killing both himself and 29 other people. This man, identified by DNA taken from his body fragments, was Shirwa Ahmed of Minneapolis.
Ahmed had come with his Somali family as an immigrant to America in 1996 and had graduated from Roosevelt High School. In 2008 he had returned to Somalia to become a jihadist. He was a naturalized American citizen. Ahmed (pictured) was the first known American Islamist suicide bomber. He had been indoctrinated into radical Islam while in Minneapolis, stated Robert Mueller, head of the FBI.
Director Farhan Hurre, director of the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, said:
“We have nothing to do with these kids who left. I mean, we don't know the time they left, we don't why they left, we don't know who convinced them to go there.”
Patrick Poole wrote in December 2008 that up to 40 Americans had disappeared from Minneapolis/St Paul:
The FBI is investigating similar disappearances in other major Somali communities in Columbus, OH, Atlanta, Boston, San Diego, and Seattle. There are even reports coming from Europe, recently from Denmark, of Somali men returning home to fight with al-Shabaab and other terrorist organizations.
Patrick Poole had previously reported on recruiting drives that had taken place on United States soil, with the aim of taking young Muslim men to fight with jihadists in the Horn of Africa, but the federal authorities had taken little interest until Shirwa Ahmed carried out his suicide attack.
Burhan Hassan (pictured) was a 17-year old Somali American who had disappeared. In June 2009, news came that he had been killed, and buried in Mogadishu. Like Shirwa Ahmed, he had studied at Roosevelt High School, Minneapolis. In July 2009, 20-year old Jamal Bana, again from Minnesota and a relative of Burhan Hassan, became the third American jihadist to be killed while fighting in Somalia.
At first, it seemed that the Americans who were traveling to Somalia to fight jihad were themselves descended from Somali families, and perhaps felt that they were upholding some notions of ancestral or tribal honor. Though joining a terrorist movement cannot be condoned, I believe that – in the minds of these Somali-descended jihadists – they were acting in ways little different from the Europeans who flocked to Spain in the 1930s to fight against Franco’s fascists.
Unfortunately, what seems now to be happening amongst Americans who are going to Somalia has nothing to do with fighting to protect people being attacked – they are going to fight jihad for jihad’s sake, as hate-filled Islamists.
These individuals include converts who appear to have suffered from some form of assimilation problem, people who had no hope of being “normal” citizens, because their egos or their emotional make-up prevented it.
Many “converts” to radical forms of Islam seem to have a desire to “prove” their commitment by being more radical than the Salafists who recruited them. It cannot be stressed enough that some converts are well-adjusted. However, when converts like “Jihad Jane” were apparently willing to collude with murder, such converts should be closely scrutinized by mosques and communities – lest their reasons for joining Islam are not about making a spiritual transition, but merely steps along the way to jihad and murder.
Zachary A. Chesser’s trial is not concluded, but his comments on Revolution Muslim and his open preaching of radicalism suggest that he was a psychologically needy misfit just waiting for his moment to become a jihadist murderer. There are important lessons here to be learned, if people are prepared to look.