Fearing the next terror attack could emerge from America’s growing Somali refugee population, federal authorities have stepped up surveillance in Somali communities – including a large enclave just outside Washington.
Somali cab drivers gather at Starbucks in Baileys Crossroads, Va.
In fact, WND has learned that the Baileys Crossroads area of Northern Virginia – about 10 miles from the capital – was a critical focus of security investigations in advance of the presidential inauguration in January.
Investigators say a troubling number of the area’s Somali men hold “militant” anti-American views and sympathize with al-Qaida. They typically work as taxi drivers, gathering at local coffeehouses during their breaks, as well as at a nearby mosque tied to 9/11.
Worshipers pray outside Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va.
Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va., which assisted at least two of the al-Qaida hijackers, has a large representation of Somali immigrants. Investigators say a former Dar al-Hijrah imam is now working with al-Qaida to arm and recruit fighters – including Americans – for the holy war in Somalia.
“Somalis were the hot topic during the inauguration, and they still are,” said a senior investigator assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Washington. “They’re very militant, and they’re all over that area.”
Authorities estimate the Washington area is home to about 6,000 Somalis, most of whom are Muslim.
Another troubling hotspot is Minneapolis, where individuals have traveled to Somalia to train with an al-Qaida-backed terror wing called Al-Shabab, which means “the youth” in Arabic.
Flock praying inside Abubakar Islamic Center in Minneapolis
The FBI has launched investigations in the thriving Somali community of 70,000 there, questioning local men suspected of being radicalized. Last year, some 20 young Somali men – all American citizens – left to join the jihad. All of them worshipped at the same pro-jihad mosque – Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center – whose leaders deny a connection. Investigators, however, suspect the young men were recruited and bankrolled there. The mosque’s imam is on the FBI’s terror watch list and is grounded from air travel.
“We’re working with the Somali community in Minneapolis and other cities around the United States to combat that radicalization that has occurred,” FBI Director Robert Mueller recently testified.
Al-Shabab is actively recruiting Americans to join the jihad in Somalia and take part in explosives training. Last month, the group posted a video of a man calling himself an American and promoting holy war in Somalia. Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, who speaks English with a North American accent, is shown exhorting “more of your children, and more of your neighbors, and anyone around you to send people to this jihad.”
U.S. officials worry the men training in Somalia may return to conduct terrorist operations, even suicide bombings, inside America.
They could “provide al-Qaida with trained extremists inside the United States,” said senior U.S. intelligence official Andrew Liepman.
They note that a man who last year carried out a suicide bombing that killed 30 in Somalia was radicalized in his hometown of Minneapolis. Shirwa Ahmed, 27, became the first U.S. citizen to blow himself up in a suicide strike. He also prayed at the Abubakar Islamic Center.
“So then it is correct to describe a radicalization process that’s occurring at least in one community in the United States that has resulted in one of these individuals going abroad and at least allegedly committing an act of terrorism? Would that be accurate?” Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., asked Mueller at a recent hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“That’s accurate,” Mueller replied.
Earlier this week, additionally, a Minneapolis resident pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to al-Qaida, according to the Justice Department.
The confessed terrorist, Mohammed Abdullah Warsame, is of Somali descent. He says he trained at al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan before 9/11, where he met Osama bin Laden. He has since traveled to Pakistan and provided information via e-mail to several al-Qaida operatives, according to the plea agreement. Warsame faces a prison term of up to 15 years.
Democrat Rep. Keith Ellison of Minneapolis – who won election as the nation’s first Muslim member of Congress on the strength of the local Somali vote – has defended the Abubakar mosque where the young Somali men were radicalized. He argues it’s a victim of guilt by association. At a recent gathering at the Minneapolis Convention Center, Ellison urged Somalis to organize themselves into a powerful political coalition to help fend off investigations.
The local Somali community has also been the subject of federal investigations into terrorist money-laundering. Agents suspect Somali refugees have funneled millions of dollars from food-stamp fraud and drug sales through Somali grocery stores into overseas bank accounts used by al-Qaida.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has held fundraisers for Ellison and whose leaders have personally donated thousands of dollars to his campaigns, has defended the Somali store operators against the allegations, even meeting with the head of the civil-rights unit of the USDA to complain about the agency’s food-stamp investigations.
U.S. prosecutors recently named CAIR as an unindicted operator in a criminal conspiracy to launder millions of dollars in terrorist cash.
A large number of Somali refugees have also settled in Nashville, Tennessee, stirring up fears of radicalization there as well. A predominantly Somali mosque in Nashville – the Al-Farooq Islamic Center – sells Islamic texts and tapes that support violent jihad, according to former federal investigator Dave Gaubatz, who recently conducted an undercover investigation at the mosque.
“The leadership is very sharia-compliant,” he said, “and has several manuals by Islamic terrorists, as well as lectures by Ali al-Timimi,” a radical American Muslim cleric who in 2005 was convicted of soliciting violent jihad.
The suburbs of Shelbyville and Dover have also become Somali strongholds. Local newspapers have reported that police are hesitant to even patrol after dark at the apartment complexes where the Somalis live.
Most Somali immigrants are refugees of civil unrest in the war-torn African country of Somalia. However, investigators say many recent immigrants have used false narratives to enter the U.S. They say some 80 percent of Somalis who came into the U.S. on the basis of family reunification are in fact not related.
The Dar al-Hijrah cleric who privately ministered to two of the 9/11 hijackers – possibly preparing them for their suicide mission targeting the Pentagon – has been actively recruiting Americans to join the holy war in Somalia.
Anwar al-Awlaki, an American born in Las Cruces, N.M., last December wrote an open letter of support for al-Shabab, which the State Department has designated a foreign terrorist organization. The letter, written in English and intended for Western audiences, urged Muslims to help the terrorists “with men and money.”
Al-Awlaki, who fled Washington for Yemen after 9/11, has been linked to an alleged al-Qaida plot in Yemen to smuggle weapons to terrorists in Somalia.
Al-Shabab has been working with other al-Qaida operatives wanted by the U.S., including some of the masterminds behind the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa.