MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – “Home Grown: The Somali-American Struggle” looks into the lives of the Somali population in Minnesota. In the second part of this series, WCCO’s Edgar Linares takes a look at how young men are being recruited.
It’s starting to become old news: a young man from Minnesota stopped at an airport trying to leave to join a terror group.
Last April, six Somali-American friends were arrested by the FBI before they could leave. Two were caught in San Diego, California and four were stopped in Minnesota.
So how are these terror groups recruiting and why are a handful becoming radicalized? The FBI says the terror groups work through social media and use influential videos to recruit.
Last month a video was released showing gun-toting terrorists walking in slow motion out of big expensive SUVs. It’s wasn’t a Hollywood movie trailer, it was a terror recruiting video specifically targeting Somalis to join their jihad.
They video had nearly a thousand views before YouTube took it down. These kinds of videos are social media tool used by groups like Al-Shabaab and ISIS (ISIL), investigators say.
According to the FBI, their message radicalized six friends who allegedly swore to leave the Twin Cities and head to Syria. Some in the group had attempted to leave other times before.
The ages of the men were between 19 and 21. They’re identified Adnan Abdihamid Farah, Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, Hanad Mustafe Musse, Guled Ali Omar, Mohamed Abdihamid Farah and Abdurahman Yasin Daud.
Federal authorities say approximately fifteen Minnesotans have traveled to Syria to join ISIS in the past year and a handful are fighting in other extremist groups.
After the arrest of the six men, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said, “To be clear, we have a terror recruitment problem in Minnesota. It’s not a Somali problem … It’s our problem.”
And the FBI says that problem is becoming more and more challenging to fight.
“The recruitment process has unfortunately evolved over time,” Special Agent Kyle Loven said.
Loven is the FBI’s Chief Division Council and Media Coordinator for Minnesota and North Dakota. He’s working within the Somali-American community on outreach programs to curb recruiting. He explained how some are being reached digitally.
“Historically Twitter has been used, Facebook,” Loven said. “There have been videos put out, videos directly targeting young people in Minneapolis.”
Court documents show the families of the six arrested were not aware of their activities. But on their Facebook pages, you could find pro-ISIS images, and some had re-tweeted terrorist messages. Others kept their activity quiet by hiding conversations using web tools.
Another website used by the six was Ask.fm. The website allows people to post anonymous questions and get them answered anonymously. Also Kik.com, a Canadian-based website that doesn’t keep records of conversations.
The six arrested and many others who successfully left in the past all fit a particular profile. They’re men, between the ages of 18 to 24, and live on the margins of society, according to investigators.
Bob Fletcher, the founder of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, said this: “Kids that are not succeeding in the American way of life are the most susceptible.”
“The vast majority of those within the Somali community in the Twin Cities are absolutely opposed to the radicalization of their young people,” Loven said.
We asked Somali-American youth how they feel about the recent attempts by young people in their community to join ISIS. Many were reluctant to talk, but almost all of them feel like they’re being marginalized.
“We feel like we’re being watched closely,” said Abdullhai Omar from Minneapolis. “We feel like we’re being trapped into a little box and everyone wants to go after us.”
The criminal complaint against the six men relied on information from a confidential informant. The informant himself conspired to join ISIS but decided to cooperate with the FBI. He recorded secret conversations with the co-conspirators.
“There are many people of goodwill within that community who want to work with law enforcement to stop this,” said Loven.
Loven says that’s the key to stopping the recruiting pipeline.