On August 5, more than a dozen Somali-Americans, variously located across several states, were arrested on charges related to providing material support to the terrorist organization al-Shabaab.
The arrests of these individuals represents the latest in a string of incidents in which U.S. citizens, or foreign nationals living within the United States, have been arrested for terror-related crimes ranging from fundraising to collusion and murder. Their collaboration with others seeking to wage jihad against the United States hastens the difficulties faced by domestic agencies tasked with protecting the American homeland.
Since 9/11, dozens of American-born and naturalized U.S. citizens have been arrested or implicated in activities linked to Islamic fundamentalism. Some of these incidents have received broad coverage, such as the tragic Fort Hood shooting; however, most have remained elusive to the public. Despite the paucity of attention paid to domestic radicalization, this phenomenon represents a significant threat to both national security and American interests abroad.
The Somali-Americans arrested are accused of conspiring to provide financial and logistical support to al-Shabaab, a Somali-based terrorist organization committed to overthrowing the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG). While the central focus of al-Shabaab has been to effectuate regime change within Somalia, the danger it poses toward American interests should not be ignored. A brief look into al-Shabaab’s history and recent activities underscore why dismissing as insignificant the Somali-based terror group may be misguided.
Al-Shabaab emerged as an autonomous organization in 2007, following the overthrow of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), under whose framework much of central and southern Somalia was controlled before being replaced by the TFG. As the ICU splintered, its more militant elements formed alternate factions whose objectives were often homogeneous; namely, continuing the fight against the TFG and its regional sponsors. In maintaining its aggressive ambitions against the TFG, al-Shabaab’s focus was initially to promote Islamic nationalism and to ascend Sharia law into the forefront of Somali culture; however, the scope of their objectives have begun to evolve.
In recent times, al-Shabaab has taken a turn toward more pan-Islamic endeavors, formally aligning itself with al-Qaeda earlier this year. In a media statement released in January, al-Shabaab leaders proclaimed that the “jihad of the Horn of Africa must be combined with the international jihad led by the al-Qaeda network.”
With simultaneous suicide bombings in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, al-Shabaab demonstrated the expansionist nature of their terror capabilities. The collaboration with al-Qaeda only enhances the possibility that their respective goals may intersect, producing an extended framework of terror organizations that increasingly places U.S. interests and national security within their crosshairs.
Now that expansive framework appears to be more than speculative. U.S. officials believe that al-Shabaab has been directly collaborating with al-Qaeda affiliates in both Yemen and Pakistan. This reality presents a disturbingly relevant terror network focusing the endeavors of al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and others in a concentrated effort to attack American interests.
While the locus of events perpetrated by al-Shabaab have remained largely foreign, many disturbing incidents at home have underscored the dangers posed by Islamist organizations and their influence on domestic radicalization. The aforementioned arrests linked to al-Shabaab, spread widely across the United States, only represent the latest in a string of domestic arrests tied to the Somali terror network.
In June 2010, two New Jersey men were arrested on charges of attempting to join al-Shabaab and waging war against American forces in the region. Mohamed Alessa, 20, and Carlos “Omar” Almonte, 24, were apprehended as they attempted to board separate flights bound for Egypt. Although not of Somali descent, their arrests were the culmination of a yearlong investigation that uncovered their apparent sympathies with both the aspirations of al-Shabaab and the larger Islamist jihad against America.
Just over one month later, Virginia-born Zachary Chesser was arrested and accused of attempting to join the al-Shabaab terror network. Ostensibly bound for al-Shabaab training camps, Chesser was apprehended by the FBI as he prepared to board a flight bound for Uganda. According to an affidavit filed in federal court, Chesser had intentions of joining with the terror group and participating in jihad as a “foreign fighter.”
The increased radicalization of young Muslims within the United States, coupled with the ease in which foreign terrorists can use technological means to both incite and collude with domestic sympathizers, should be recognized as a pressing, and increasingly significant, danger to national security.
As the interests of myriad terror organizations continue to intersect, and their collective influence on the radicalization of a domestic audience rises, threats to American interests at home will only increase. The recent arrests of over a dozen Somali-Americans linked to the al-Shabaab terror network only portend a glimpse of the difficulties yet to come in protecting the American homeland.
Scott Erickson has worked in the field of law enforcement for the past decade and holds both his B.S. and M.S. in Criminal Justice Studies. He is contributor to The Daily Caller.
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