(Illustration: Minneapolis’ Fox 9)

Young Somali men have been mysteriously disappearing from the Minneapolis-St.Paul area – and many Minnesotans believe they are being recruited to join the holy war in Somalia.

According to KMSP-TV in Minneapolis, more than 20 men between the ages of 17 and 22 have vanished from the Twin Cities area in the last few months. Minnesota has the largest Somali community in the U.S. – nearly 60,000 – but some have left without ever informing their families.

The Somali community simply calls them “The Missing.”

“It looks like people are being recruited to join the jihad in Somalia, but who’s doing it?” Omar Jamal of the Somali Justice Center told the station. “We don’t know.”

Family members and community leaders all say they think the men have returned to fight in the country’s civil war – where al-Qaida has a strong presence. The area is so violent – with road blocks and pirates – that the U.N. has refused to allow peacekeeping and humanitarian aid workers to enter. According to U.N. estimates, there are now 1 million Somali refugees. Many people are starving and living on roadsides.

Families are deeply concerned about their relatives in Somalia, and now their men are vanishing from the U.S.

“They’re concerned, emotional and in shock,” Jamal said. “They’re completely grief stricken.”

According to the report, eight men departed Aug.1, and 10 more left Nov. 4. Flight itineraries indicate they flew out of Minneapolis, through Dubai, Nairobi and Malindi, Kenya. The families believe they used boats to enter Somalia.

Five families, suspecting that their children had joined jihad fighters in Somalia, reported their suspicions to the FBI – though investigators would not provide the station with any statements of confirmation or denial.

Religious leader Shiek Imam Abdighani Ali said he thinks recruiters are arranging trips for young Somali men.

“A lot of parents are coming to us asking where their kid is going,” Ali said. “We are trying to find out who financed (the trips). They are 17 years old, $1,700, and most of them don’t work.”

Other religious leaders and families say they have been warned not to talk about the mysterious disappearances.

Some of the men are believed to be former gang members, while others were students in college. One man called his mother and told her he was in Somalia – but he would not say why he was there, and no one is talking.

The Chicago Tribune reported the CIA has recruited gangs of Somalis to find, capture and allegedly detain Islamic militants on warships. In the beginning of last year, the U.S. helped install a pro-Western transitional government there, crushing the “Taliban-like movement.”

But now the Islamists are regrouping, and violence is everywhere.

More than 700,000 residents of Mogadishu have been driven out of the city, fleeing combat between extremists and the interim government.

Somalia’s visitors are considered to be “suicidal” – and that’s what has so many family members concerned about the safety of “The Missing” and the nature of their missions.

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