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Oregon Terror Plot Mobilizes Minnesota Somalis

 by David Schimke

Tags: Terrorism, Somalia, Portland, Minneapolis, Somali Youth, FBI,

When news of a terror plot in Portland, Oregon broke last week, it was initially reported that the alleged bomber, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, may have a stepmother in Minnesota. Investigators have neither confirmed nor denied the report, in large part because the Somali populace in Minneapolis and St. Paul is so vast. “Chances are, for a Somali outside of Somalia, there is a good chance he's going to have a relative here somewhere," FBI Special Agent E.K. Wilson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “So I guess we just kind of assume that. But does that mean there is a tie to the case in Minneapolis? No.”

While there is no official link between Mohamud and Minnesota’s Somali community, which is the largest in the nation, the Star Tribune goes on to report that the Portland bombing plot “lends a fresh urgency to their efforts to reach out to young people and to fight extremism.”

“Minnesota has recently been at the center of one of the largest counterterrorism probes since the 9/11 attacks,” report Star Tribune staff writers Allie Shah and Richard Meryhew. “The focus stems from the recruitment of at least 20 young men, nearly all of Somali descent, bye the terrorist group Al-Shabab.” As a result, “Minnesota Somali leaders had already been working to protect young men in their community from the lure of radicalism and gangs.”

In May, Utne Reader published an excerpt from the Virginia Quarterly Review, “Homegrown Jihad,” which examined the roots and depth of that allure, particularly in Minnesota, where the first U.S. citizen to carry out a terrorist suicide bombing was radicalized. His name was Shirwa Ahmed, and one morning in October, 2008 he drove a SUV packed with explosives into an intelligence office in Bassaso, a port city in the Somali state of Puntland. Five people were killed.

While Ahmed’s story is markedly different from Mohamud’s, who grew up relatively privileged and assimilated in Beaverton, Oregon, Somali leaders in Minnesota worry that his actions will resonate with kids who feel disenfranchised or disillusioned.

As Abdisalam Adam, secretary of the Islamic League of Somali Scholars in America, tells the Star Tribune: "There seems to be a feeling of, with the youth, something is missing."