Even as President Obama launched air strikes Tuesday against the al-Shabab terrorist group in Somalia, a pipeline for potential new Somali terrorists continues to fester right here in the United States.
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It's called the Refugee Resettlement Program, and it continues unabated under the leadership of the U.S. State Department and with the help of several Christian charities.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, sits at the heart of the controversial program. Known as "Little Mogadishu" to some critics, the city has since 1983 welcomed thousands of Somali refugees, most of whom are practicing Muslims and attend a local mosque or Islamic center.
While the Minneapolis-St. Paul area plays host to the largest Somali refugee population, it's not the only American city that is taking in refugees from the war-torn African nation. Columbus, Ohio, San Diego, California, and Lewiston, Maine, have also served as refugee resettlement hot spots.
The State Department, working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, chooses the communities largely because they are viewed as welcoming of foreign refugees and also because they have well-developed social welfare programs.
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"Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services and World Relief, which is an evangelical group, resettled them there because the welfare is so good in Minnesota. That was the main reason," says Ann Corcoran, an activist who has written hundreds of articles about the Somali resettlement program for Refugee Resettlement Watch. "That's also the case with Maine. A lot of the Somalis are going there for the same reason."
The Christian charities have worked quietly behind the scenes, using millions of dollars in federal grants, to resettle the refugees in the chosen cities.
Catholic Charities, the Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota and World Relief work as contractors to help Somali children get integrated into American life. They are placed in foster homes, taught English, educated in public schools and provided government health care through Medicaid.
There have been many success stories of Somalis opening businesses and becoming productive citizens. But a number of them will not end up assimilating into American culture. While neither the FBI nor local law enforcement are able to provide hard numbers, this much is clear: The Somalis in Minnesota have been recruited by radical Islamists, either at a local mosque or on the Internet, and dozens have succumbed to the indoctrination, choosing to return to Somalia to wage jihad against the Western-backed government there. Some have even joined ISIS in Syria.
The disturbing trend was underscored again last week when it was reported that two Americans, both from Minneapolis, had linked up with the ISIS terrorist organization in Syria and were killed on the battlefield in that country's civil war. One was a Somali refugee and the other reportedly was an African-American with ties to the Somali community in Minnesota.
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Since 2007, at least 22 young Somali refugees have left Minnesota to join al-Shabab in their homeland. Some have died there, and some were even praised as "Minnesota martyrs" in an al-Shabab video released last year. Still others have been recruited from Minnesota to fight with Islamic rebels against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.
And many more have been tried and convicted of providing money or material support to overseas Muslim terrorist organizations. Among them was one Somali woman from Minnesota who refused to rise when called upon by the judge, citing a verse in the Quran.
"I'll not stand for anyone except for Allah," Amina Farah Ali told the federal judge.
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Corcoran has been studying the U.S. State Department's Refugee Resettlement Program for the past seven years. She is especially concerned about young Somali Muslims entering the U.S. and the costs, both in terms of tax dollars and in the mounting evidence that the program is becoming a breeding ground for global jihad.
"We let the refugees in, they get radicalized here, and they go back to Somalia to fight as jihadists," Corcoran said.
She said originally the FBI was investigating about 40 Somali men believed to have left the country to join al-Shabab, but they later scaled that number back to 22. They were young men who left Minneapolis and joined al-Shabab after they had been resettled and granted legal status in America.
The 'height of political correctness'
In 2009, a Somali man who left Minneapolis joined al-Shabab and blew himself up in a suicide bombing at an Ethiopian consulate in Somalia, killing 24 people. He was one of three Somali Americans to carry out a suicide attack. Al-Shabab also claimed three Americans were involved in the September 2013 attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, a claim that law enforcement officials have been unable to verify.
"We actually brought his body parts back here and buried him because he was a refugee who became a U.S. citizen," Corcoran said of the 2009 suicide bomber. "We gave him a proper Muslim burial in Minneapolis after he had blown people up and taken so many people with him. That's the height of political correctness."
Mahamud Said Omar, a former janitor at Abubaker As-Saddique Islamic Center, a mosque many of the Minneapolis Somalis attended, played a major role in recruiting some of the young men, according to Department of Justice officials.
The Anti-Defamation League's October 2013 report, "Al-Shabab's American Recruits," revealed that in November 2009, Omar was arrested in the Netherlands and charged in a Minneapolis District Court with providing the young men funding to travel to Somalia. He also allegedly visited an al-Shabab safe house and donated money to the group for the purchase of AK-47 rifles for the Minneapolis men to use. In October 2012, Omar was found guilty of five charges related to his recruitment for al-Shabab and was sentenced in May 2013 to 20 years in prison.
Terror recruitment video features 'Minnesota martyrs'
The local Fox affiliate in Minneapolis, KMSP-TV, reported in August 2013 that al-Shabab made a terror recruitment video targeting Somali men in Minnesota.
The video had been posted to YouTube and called "The Path to Paradise." It focused on the journey of three men who left Minnesota to die in Somalia.
YouTube has since taken down the video. However, KMSP-TV obtained a copy of the footage of three young men who left Minneapolis more than six years ago to join training camps in Somalia.
All three of the men in the video are now dead – killed either in combat or in suicide attacks.
"We raise them up. We pay for their health care, their education. Most of them are well educated; it's not like these are high-school dropouts," Corcoran said. "Most have finished high school and have gone on to junior college. They speak English very well. We raise them up so they're good, healthy, young bucks, and then we send them back to fight in Somalia or Syria."
Typically the young Somalis return to their homeland for the stated purpose of visiting family or protecting their family members who are caught up in the country's brutal civil war. Once there, they join the forces of al-Shabab.
Few lessons learned since 2009
In 2009, Sens. Joe Liberman and Susan Collins held a hearing on radicalization of Somali refugees living in Minnesota. During the hearing, intelligence officials testified that the reason Somalis were going to fight with al-Shabab had nothing to do with international terrorism. They claimed is had everything to do with nationalism.
Corcoran was at the hearing.
"It was because they were mad that their people were under attack from the Ethiopians and this was about nationalism. That's a bunch of bull," she said. "The reason they went back is al-Shabab wants to establish a caliphate. This is not about nationalism."
In June of this year, FBI investigators admitted as much, saying the Somali men were not motivated by nationalistic causes but were radical Islamists interesting in furthering global jihad or "holy war," reported KMSP-TV.
As of July 31, the U.S. has imported 7,326 Somali refugees during the current fiscal year, according to government data.
"We've brought in over 100,000 refugees, total, from Somalia in the last 30 years," Corcoran said.
The program was curtailed and the number of new refugees slowed to a trickle after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on New York and Washington, D.C. But the program gradually picked up steam again under President George W. Bush, as the number of Somalis entering the U.S. as refugees swelled to 10,000 or more in three consecutive fiscal years, 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Once here, the refugees are able to bring extended family members into the United States as part of the federal government's refugee family reunification program.
"We set these seed communities up, and then they apply for family reunification to bring family members and extended families members as well," Corcoran said. "Once you get the seed program going, it's never ending."
Large-scale fraud in the system
But in 2008 the program encountered a major hiccup. The State Department found evidence of large-scale fraud, as many Somali refugees made false claims about their family connections back in Africa.
"The State Department found the Somalis had been lying, and 20,000 to 30,000 Somalis got into the U.S. by lying about their families," Corcoran said.
So the family reunification program was suspended until 2012, when it was restarted under the condition that alleged family members were to undergo DNA testing.
Corcoran suspects these tests don't actually occur as a matter of routine.
"And then they said African families are just different than ours because they take in other people's children when needed. Anyway the lull we had is over," Corcoran said.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said late last year he was "absolutely" concerned that the young American Somali men may return to the U.S. with their passports and attempt to carry out an attack on U.S. soil similar to the foiled plot in Australia, in which Somali-Australians allegedly affiliated with al-Shabab planned to carry out a suicide attack on a Sydney army base after returning from Somalia.
Even if they don't return to the U.S., there is a cost to the U.S. taxpayer.
Corcoran said the average Somali family in the U.S. has six children, and they must be cared for after their fathers go off to fight and die for the hope of a future Islamic caliphate.
"The Somali who just got killed in Syria had supposedly left Minneapolis because he had no future there. This guy had nine children. He goes over and joins ISIS and gets killed, so guess who gets to take care of his children," she said. "It's the American taxpayer. So there's an awful lot here to be concerned about."
Somali refugees by the numbers
The Refugee Act of 1980 required the Office of Refugee Resettlement to begin reporting to Congress annually. In the first 10 years of the program, from 1983 to 1993, there were 4,413 Somalis admitted as refugees. The escalation of Somali refugees being resettled in the United States can be seen in the graph below.
By 2003, the U.S. had imported 42,017 Somalis. In those 20 years, each Somali family was having on average six children. In fiscal year 2013 (ends Sept. 30), the U.S. has brought in 7,326 Somalis so far.