The U.S. Justice Department has announced that two American residents have been arrested for financing al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia. A third conspirator was arrested in the Netherlands and two others are wanted in Kenya and Somaliland. The defendants are facing up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the 22 counts of providing material support to a terrorist organization as well as a charge of conspiracy.
The conspirators are part of a mostly female network of Al-Shabaab financiers. Since February 2011, monetary donations were sent to the terrorist group in small amounts, sometimes as little as $50, in order to avoid detection.
The two arrested U.S. residents are Muna Osman Jama and Hindia Osman Dhirane. The former’s indictment says she is a resident of Annandale, Virginia and the latter is from Kent, Washington. The criminal case cover sheet states that both need a Somali interpreter.
Al-Shabaab has proven skillful at recruiting Americans, especially those originally from Somalia. An October 2013 study listed about 50 U.S. citizens and residents known to be associated with the terrorist group.
Rep. Peter King (R-NY), member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in July 2011 that over 40 Americans and 20 Canadians have joined Al-Shabaab’s ranks in Somalia. Of these, at least 15 Americans and three Canadians are thought to have been killed.
At least three Americans from the Minneapolis area gave their lives to Al-Shabaab as suicide bombers. A local Somali Muslim community leader, Abdirizak Bihi, has blasted the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for inhibiting investigations into the radicalization of Somalis in the Minneapolis area.
“They [CAIR] say that I am a bad person, that I am anti-Muslim, and that I don’t represent a hundred percent the Somali community,” Bihi said in September 2013.
The terrorist group has had a support network in the U.S. for years; theoretically giving it the ability to strike within the U.S. As far back as 2008, counter-terrorism expert Patrick Poole wrote:
“[T]here exists an active recruiting and transportation network in the U.S., including Minneapolis, for Somali-run terrorist training camps, many of which have recently reopened. In many instances, these same Somali leaders purporting ignorance and innocence for the local media are not only aware of these recruiting operations, but have actively participated in them.”
Somali groups have also held fundraisers for Islamists linked to Al-Shabaab. An example would be an event in Minneapolis held by the United Somali Diaspora that featured a high-level Somali militant leader allied with Al-Qaeda.
“[The visiting leader] was openly calling for jihad and directing supporters to use the underground hawala networks to circumvent US controls to prevent terrorism financing overseas…Why would this man be allowed in the U.S.?” asked Abdirahman Warsame, a Somali-American activist against extremism.
Al-Shabaab has also sought to infiltrate the U.S. via the insecure Mexican border.
In February 2010, an American named Anthony Joseph Tracy was arrested for running a human smuggling operation into the U.S. He originally converted to Islam while in prison and told authorities that he helped sneak about 272 Somalis into the U.S. by helping them get Cuban visas.
“Tracy said that the routes … [they] took once they fraudulently obtained their Cuban visas was to travel from Kenya to Dubai to Moscow to Cuba to South America to Mexico and then to the United States,” the indictment states.
Tracy claims he was approached by Al-Shabaab but rejected them. He was sentenced to four months in prison.
In January 2010, a confidential law enforcement report was leaked that said that the Mexican government had arrested 23 illegal immigrants from Somalia. Only 16 were identified and one of them, Mohamed Osman Noor, had strong ties to Al-Shabaab. They were accidentally released.
One way to defend the U.S. from the Al-Shabaab threat would be to label Eritrea as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The African country is led by a self-professed Christian whose dictatorship materially sponsors Al-Shabaab.
Any supporter of Al-Shabaab has no qualms about taking innocent life for the sake of jihad and Sharia governance. The group’s fight is now in Somalia, but it would only take a nudge for its supporters in America to strike here.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.