Democrat: Terror Group That’s Recruiting Americans Doesn’t ‘Present Any Danger to This Homeland’

By Penny Starr | July 28, 2011 | 5:20 AM EDT

Women and children at a camp for displaced people that has sprung up in Mogadishu, on Wednesday, July 27, 2011. The camp has very few men because al-Shabab would not let them leave the south-central region the families come from, the women say. Somalia's dire famine poses a new threat to the power that al-Shabaab holds over Somalia's population, as tens of thousands flee the militants' area of control for food and other aid. (AP Photo/Jason Straziuso)

( – Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) downplayed the threat posed to the U.S. by a Somalia-based terror group, despite a new report showing that as many as 40 Somali-American Muslims have been recruited and trained by al-Shabaab.

“Al Shabaab does not appear to present any danger to this homeland,” Thompson said Wednesday at a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee. He acknowledged that the “intelligence community sees a need to monitor Al Shabaab’s activities,” but he said “vigilance must be in direct proportion to the probability and likelihood of the threat.”

At part of the hearing, the committee’s Republican staff – led by Chairman Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) – released a report that details al-Shabaab’s activities in the United States, including the recruitment and training of 40 Somali-Americans, 21 of whom are still unaccounted for after traveling to that east African nation.

Republicans committee staffers described Al-Shabaab as “al-Qaeda’s major ally in East Africa.”

The Republican-prepared report, which includes interviews with dozens of current and former counterterrorism officials, scholars, diplomats and other experts, also found that at least 15 of those recruits have been killed while fighting with al-Shabaab abroad.

Three American recruits who returned to the U.S. from Somalia have been prosecuted in U.S. courts and one is awaiting extradition from The Netherlands.

“Some argue that al-Shabaab is only a Somali problem, and that the group will never strike outside of the Horn of Africa region,” said Rep. King. “That kind of thinking is a glaring example of what the 9/11 commission called a failure of imagination.

“With al-Shabaab’s large cadre of American jihadis and unquestionable ties to al-Qaeda, particularly its alliance with AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), we must face the reality that al-Shabaab is a growing threat to our homeland,” King said.

Thompson (D-Miss.), however, said any discussion of al-Shabaab and America “must begin with the facts.”

According to Thompson, “reliable evidence indicates” that a small but “concerning” number of young American men have joined the Somali terror group. “This activity seemed to occur primarily between 2007 and 2009,” Thompson said. He said Al-Shabaab has fewer than 3,000 members and it has never attacked the United States or U.S. interests abroad.

“There are other facts we must not ignore,” Thompson said.  “Somalia is currently in the grips of the worse humanitarian crisis in a generation.”  He was referring to the famine, produced by years of drought and civil war.

“Against Somalia’s backdrop of human suffering caused by natural disaster is the political instability caused by human folly.” Thompson added that “unfortunately,” al-Shabaab was a part of the “toxic” and “tragic mix” in Somalia.

Thomas Joscelyn, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, used the words of an al-Shabaab leader in his opening statement to describe how serious the group’s threat is.

“In August 2008, senior Shabaab leader Mukhtar Robow admitted: ‘We are negotiating how we can unite into one [with al Qaeda]. We will take our orders from Sheik Osama bin Laden because we are his students.’

Robow, according to Joscelyn, described al Qaeda as “the mother of holy war in Somalia,” and said al Shabaab leaders were trained in al Qaeda camps and some even spent time with Osama bin Laden.

W. Anders Folk, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Minnesota, summarized the threat posed by al-Shabaab in the U.S.

“It is impossible to predict with certainty what, if anything, and who, if anyone, will come to the United States after training and indoctrination by al-Shabaab. It is obvious, however, that individuals who are trained, indoctrinated and deployed in combat by al-Shabaab have learned how to carry out acts of lethal violence.”

Folk said the group’s ideology “echoes that of al-Qaeda.”

“This combination of ability and ideology illustrates the threat that is posed by even one al-Shabaab veteran residing in the United States.”

Al Shabaab has appeared on America’s national security radar before this.

In April, U.S. Army Gen. Carter Ham told a Senate hearing that the extremist threat coming from East Africa was the biggest concern of his U.S. Africa Command.

And as reported in February, an intelligence assessment prepared for Congress warned that al-Shabaab in Somalia probably would grow stronger unless something was done to disrupt it.