From Somalia to Minnesota to Jihad

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As I write this, the FBI has yet to confirm that Abdisalan Hussein Ali, a 22 year-old man born in Somalia and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was one of two suicide bombers who killed at least 10 people in Mogadishu on October 29. According to a piece in the New York Timespublished a day later and an update posted by Minneapolis Star Tribunereporter Allie Shah the morning of November 1, however, circumstantial evidence is mounting to suggest a connection between Abdisalan Hussein and the bombing, which is linked to Somalia’s Shabab rebels.

Regardless how the story turns out (the FBI says it will have DNA tests completed insude two weeks), Abdisalan Hussein did disappear in 2008 and, according to the Times, was “known by the F.B.I. to be one of an estimated 30 Americans who have joined the Shabab, at least 20 of whom came from the Somali community in Minneapolis.” What’s more, Allie Shah reports, “to date, the FBI has confirmed that two suicide bombers in Somalia came from Minnesota,” which has the largest Somali population in the U.S. (over 60,000 according to the latest estimates).

The first of those bombers, Shirwa Ahmed of Minneapolis, drove an SUV packed with explosives into an intelligence office in Bossaso, a port city in the Somali state of Puntland, killing at least five people in October, 2008. Believed by the FBI to be the first U.S. citizen to carry out a suicide bombing on foreign soil, Shirwa Ahmed is the subject of a must-read story from Virginia Quarterly Review, which is excerpted in the May-June 2010 issue of Utne Reader.

Author Nicholas Shmidle tracks Shirwa Ahmed’s tragic trajectory from refugee to Minnesota high school student to terrorist recruit and, in the process, helps the reader understand the challenges and temptations that face Somali-born men struggling both to assimilate and stay connected to their war torn homeland. (As the Times points out, “many Somali-Americans have returned, not to fight, but to help rebuild the country, including the current prime minister and his predecessor.”)

“Paul Gill, a lecturer and terrorism expert a that University College in Dublin, believes that group psychology oftentimes provides a better template for understanding terrorism recruitment than religion does,” Shmidle writes. “When it comes to suicide bombers, ‘the group becomes the primary source of sustenance. It becomes more about group in-love than about hating America or hating the West,’ Gill told me. ‘It’s much like joining the marines or becoming a member of a football club: It’s hard to back out once you’re in.’ “

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