Life Behind Enemy Lines—in Somalia

As Declassified noted last weekend, a recent FBI affidavit in a big Chicago terror case offered an unusually revealing glimpse of life behind “enemy lines” in Waziristan in northwest Pakistan.

ON Monday, the FBI provided an equally eye-opening look at the scene inside another jihadi stronghold, this one in the war ravaged nation of Somalia (which U.S. officials increasingly fear is becoming a haven for Al Qaeda). In the process, the bureau shed new light on how one Somali American from Minneapolis ended up losing his life in Somalia —as a suicide bomber.

Earlier this year NEWSWEEK reported on the FBI’s concern about the strange case of young Somali Americans who were disappearing from their communities in Minneapolis and elsewhere in the United States only to reemerge fighting in Somalia on behalf of Al- Shabab, a militant terror group closely aligned with Al Qaeda. As part of its charges unveiled this week against eight defendants accused of providing material support to Al-Shabab, the Justice Department unsealed an FBI affidavit recounting the experiences of one such man—an unnamed confidential informant from the Minneapolis area who has pled guilty and is now assisting the FBI. The informant described how he was among a group of four men who flew from Minneapolis in late 2007 and wound up at an Al-Shabab training camp. The training camp was attended by “dozens” of other young Somalis from Africa, Europe, and the United States, the affidavit states. Somali, Arab, and “Western” instructors were there to train the students in “small arms, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and military style tactics.” The instructors also “indoctrinated” the students with “anti-Ethiopian, anti-American, anti-Israeli and anti-Western beliefs,” the affidavit states.

One of the young men who attended the training camp with the confidential informant was a naturalized U.S. citizen named Shirwa Ahmed (who, after leaving Minneapolis that year, had first flown to Mecca for the Haj before traveling to Somalia). After departing the training camp, Ahmed later took part in an armed ambush of Ethiopian troops fighting to rid the country of the Islamic insurgents and restore its legitimate government. Ten months later, on October 29, 2008, Ahmed participated in an even bigger action: driving a truck with an improvised explosive device. (It was among five suicide-bombing attacks orchestrated by Al-Shabab that same day, killing 22 people.) Recovered in the rubble at the bomb site was a finger that was later provided to the FBI. The bureau soon confirmed: the finger belonged to Ahmed, making him the first American known to have engaged in a suicide bombing anywhere in the world.

Overall, the bureau estimates about 20 Somali-Americans have left the Minneapolis area in the past couple of years to fight in Somalia. Why do they go? The new Justice case focuses in part on a handful recruiters who have enticed the young men by glorifying the scene at the Somalia training camp. One of the recruiters, Cabdulaahi Faarax (who, according to the affidavit, was last seen on Oct. 8 at the U.S.-Mexico border on his way to Tijuana) had told young co-conspirators (including the confidential informant) that they could experience “true brotherhood” by going to fight in Somalia. Not only would the recruits have “fun” and "get to shoot guns,” Faarax also told the informant how he also got to go to Kenya and marry two women.

The one thing Faarax apparently didn’t mention was that the young recruits might end up with their bodies smashed to bits—leaving behind only one finger so their remains could be identified to their loved ones by the FBI.

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