King, who heads the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, released his committee's results from an investigation, which found more than 40 Americans have turned up fighting for Al-Shabab in Somalia, a higher number than previously reported. Fifteen were killed, and at least 21 remain unaccounted for and pose a "direct threat" to the United States, according to the report. Many of those cases stem from Minnesota, where more than 20 Somali youth have disappeared and later turned up in Somalia with the terror group.
Earlier this month, an al-Shabab member pleaded guilty to recruiting Muslims at a Minneapolis mosque, King noted. And one Minnesotan recruited by the group, Shirwa Ahmed, became what King called "the first confirmed American suicide bomber in our history" in an attack in Somalia in 2008.
is no equivalency in the threat to our homeland from a deranged gunman and the
international terror apparatus of Al-Qaida and its affiliates, such as
Al-Shabab, who are recruiting people in this country and have murdered thousands
of Americans in their jihad attacks," King said. "I will not back
down from holding these hearings."
Minnesota , home to a large Somali-American community, has been the focus of federal investigations into radicalization for years. Just last week, a Minneapolis man pled guilty to recruiting members of the community to join Al Shabab and helping them travel to Somalia. He faces up to 15 years in prison.
Rep. Keith Ellison denied request to testify
Ellison, who watched the hearing in the witness box, said all of Wednesday's witnesses had something useful to contribute to the discussion on terrorism. But he again questioned King's motives to single out Muslims. "I really feel it's just extremely bad form, bad politics, and not within the spirit of our American Constitution to kind of go after a religious minority group," Ellison said in an interview after the hearing. "I just think that's totally disgusting."
Minnesota Post quoted Ellison as saying that Wednesday's hearing threatened to break critical ties with the Somali-American community, which he called "our strongest allies in the fight against violent extremism." "This hearing threatens to undo vital work done by the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and local officials to build trust with the community," he said.
Ties between al-Shabab and al-Qaida
William Anders Folk, a former federal prosecutor who handled al-Shabab cases in the Minneapolis area, said that groups of men affiliated with al-Shabab have left Minneapolis in recent years, and that once overseas, they become difficult to track.
Folk compared al-Shabab to al-Qaida, reminding committee members that before the 9/11 attacks, many American intelligence officials underestimated Osama bin Laden's capabilities. "Groups which are aspirational today could be operational tomorrow," Folk said.
"The dangerousness and effectiveness of Al-Shabab's rhetoric is clear from Minnesota's experience with this organization," said Folk.
To demonstrate Al-Shabab's recruiting effectiveness, Folk pointed to an October 2008 bombing in Somalia, when Shirwa Ahmed, of Minneapolis, became the first U.S. citizen known to carry out a suicide attack. Within a week, Folk said Wednesday, a group of Minnesotans left the country to join Al-Shabab in Somalia.
The final witness before the committee was Tom Smith, the Chief of Police for St. Paul, Minnesota. He said his precinct has had great success in reaching out to the large Somali American community in his city, working in small groups with teens and women, and that integration into society is the key to making young people less vulnerable to recruitment by terrorists. Smith spoke extensively on sports and other programs that have strengthened ties between police officers in his city and young, disaffected Somali Americans who might otherwise fall prey to al-Shabab recruiters. "We have built strong relationships with a community once isolated," he said.