Over the years, FOX 9 News has reported on the young men who left the Twin Cities after being recruited by al-Shabaab. In the wake of an attack on a mall in Kenya, local imams are speaking out against the terrorist group.
On Monday, local Somali leaders came together to condemn the violence at the upscale mall in Nairobi. At a press conference held at the largest mosque in Minnesota, Abubakar As-Saddique, local imams delivered a message one would expect to hear -- that this type of violence is unacceptable in Islam and is not condoned. Rather, they preach against it all the time.
"These outrageous acts of violence have no place in Islam," Abdisalam Adam said.
Yet, the Islamic center also has a history linked to the recruitment of young Minnesota men for al-Shabaab. FOX 9's Tom Lyden detailed that history in an investigation last year.
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Five years after the recruitment began, members of the Somali-American community are still reluctant to talk about it openly. Following the attack in Kenya, however, religious leaders didn't hesitate to speak out and offer condolences to the victims.
"They must be hunted and smoked out of their holes, whether they are in Somalia or anyplace else," Ibrahim Baraki said.
Even so, they did not want to talk about the al-Shabaab recruits who once attended the mosque -- including Farah Beledi, a youth volunteer at Abubakar As-Saddique who left to become a suicide bomber just as Shirwah Ahmed and Abdisalan Ali did. A janitor at the mosque, Mahamud Said Omar, was charged in federal court as a key recruiter. A jury convicted him in October last year.
The FBI has publicly identified 18 so-called "travelers" from Minnesota, men who left to fight for al-Shabaab in Somalia; however, law enforcement sources admit there are likely many more.
Although Kenya's foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, told PBS NewsHour that one of the mall attackers is believed to be a Minnesota teen, the FBI is still investigating working to identify the gunmen at the Westgate Mall in Kenya. A Twitter account claiming to speak for al-Shabaab named two Minnesota men as among those involved.
"Those names exist. Addresses exist, but we don't have parents," community activist Abdi Bihi told FOX 9 News.
Bihi believes the parents may be too afraid to come forward, especially since he says the recruitment effort is still happening. He cited an incident as recent as two weeks ago, adding that the focus has shifted from the mosques to private homes.
Just a couple of months ago, al-Shabaab posted a recruitment video to YouTube that features and targets young men from Minnesota. The highly produced, 40-minute pitch, dubbed "The Path to Paradise," chronicles the journey of three Minnesota travelers and praises them as martyrs.
Americans are attractive recruits for al-Shabaab because they provide a practical advantage to the terrorist group. American passports are more widely accepted across the globe, which could make al-Shabaab a global threat.
The timing of the attack is also noteworthy, because al-Shabaab was believed to be on the defensive. It's power was supposed to be waning amid enormous infighting. Many national security experts believe the attack in Kenya was carried out by the foreign-based al-Shabaab members -- the so-called Mujahadeen -- as a way to impress al Qaeda.