‘2 or 3’ Americans Among Islamist Terrorists in Kenyan Mall Siege

By Patrick Goodenough | September 24, 2013 | 4:17 AM EDT

Al-Shabaab fighters conduct military exercises in northern Mogadishu, Somalia in October 2010. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh, File)

(CNSNews.com) – The terrorists who attacked a shopping mall in Nairobi include “two or three” Americans and at least one British national, Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed told PBS’ NewsHour on Monday evening.

“The Americans, from the information we have, are young men, about between maybe 18 and 19,” she said, adding that they were “of Somali origin or Arab origin,” but “lived in the U.S., in Minnesota and one other place.”

“That just goes to underline, I think, the global nature of this war that we’re fighting,” added Mohamed, who is in New York for this week’s U.N. General Assembly meetings.

“I think if you saw how it was carried out, it was professional. It was very well-coordinated. And it’s clearer I think to the government now that al-Shabaab has been working with others in other parts of the world to just increase their outreach, their capacity, to expand the operations and to be able to reach places that they hadn’t reached before.”

Since 2007 some two dozen men from Minneapolis-Saint Paul, home to the nation’s largest Somali refugee community, have according to the FBI traveled to Somalia to fight with al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group responsible for the Nairobi mall standoff.

Just last month the FBI warned that al-Shabaab had posted online a new propaganda video evidently designed to lure more recruits.

Entitled “Minnesota’s Martyrs: The Path to Paradise,” the 40-minute clip featured three men from the Twin Cities, following them from recruitment to training in Somalia, and then to their eventual deaths while fighting in the jihad against the Somali military and its allies.

A federal investigation named “Operation Rhino” is focused on about 20 young Somali men from the Twin Cities who traveled to Somalia to join the terrorists between December 2007 and October 2009.

One of them, Shirwa Ahmed, blew up a car bomb on October 29, 2008 in what the FBI believes was the first case of an American suicide bomber in Somalia. Another of the Minnesota group, Farah Mohamed Beled, was killed on May 30, 2011 as he tried to detonate a suicide vest at a checkpoint.

Money, recruits, propaganda

Around 18 individuals in the Operation Rhino investigation have been charged and eight convicted. Another 10 are fugitives, or are believed to have been killed in Somalia.

Al-Shabaab-related cases in Minnesota and elsewhere this year alone include:

--In Florida last month, naturalized U.S. citizen Gufran Mohammed, 30, and Kenyan national Mohamed Hussein Said, 25, appeared in federal court on charges of conspiring to provide funds and recruits to al-Shabaab and two other foreign terrorist organizations, al-Qaeda and the al-Nusrah Front in Syria.

--Last May, Omer Abdi Mohamed, 28, of Minneapolis was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for providing support to al-Shabaab – one of the Operation Rhino cases. Two other Minneapolis men and one from Ohio were sentenced at the same time to three years’ imprisonment each for providing or conspiring to provide support to al-Shabaab.

Mohammed had helped men from Minneapolis to travel to Somalia to fight against Somali and Ethiopian troops, obtaining plane tickets and providing other assistance. According to court documents, much of the money raised for the travel came from unsuspecting members of the Somali-American community who believed the money would go to relief efforts in Somalia.

--Also in May, two women from Rochester, Minnesota, both naturalized U.S. citizens from Somalia, were sentenced after conviction for providing material support to al-Shabaab. Amina Farah Ali, 36, was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 66, to 10 years.

--Mahamud Said Omar, 46, of Minneapolis, was sentenced in May to 20 years’ imprisonment for conspiring to provide material support to al-Shabaab and conspiring to kill, kidnap, maim, and injure overseas. Omar was arrested in Netherlands in 2009 and later extradited to the U.S.

--Kamal Said Hassan, 28, of Minneapolis, was sentenced in May to 10 years’ imprisonment after being convicted on charges of providing or conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. As part of a plan to induce local Somali men to travel to Somalia Hassan took part in meetings at a Minneapolis mosque and elsewhere. He himself later went to Somalia, took part in an al-Shabaab attacks, helped to build a training camp and appeared in a propaganda video encouraging others to join the jihad.

--In April two New Jersey men were sentenced to 22 and 20 years in prison respectively after being convicted of conspiring to travel to Somalia to join al-Shabaab.

Mohamed Hamoud Alessa, 23, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, 27, were arrested as they tried to board separate international flights at JFK in 2010. In preparing for the trip, the two had raised money, conditioned themselves by lifting weights and running, simulated combat situations with paintball guns and computer software, and bought “tactical clothing.”

--In February, a federal grand jury in San Diego, Calif. convicted four Somali immigrants, including an imam at a City Heights mosque frequented by Somalis, Mohamed Mohamed Mohamud, of conspiring to provide material support to al Shabaab. The four, who face prison terms of at least 15 years each, are due to be sentenced this month.

Last June senior National Security Agency and FBI officials told a House Intelligence Committee hearing that the San Diego case was one of dozens that had been uncovered as a result of controversial NSA phone and Internet surveillance programs.

Al-Shabaab terrorist and U.S. national Omar Shafik Hammami is on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List and the State Department is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest or conviction. Reports that he was killed earlier this month have not been officially confirmed. (Photo: State Department)

-- In March the State Department offered rewards of up to $5 million each for information leading to the arrest or conviction of two U.S. citizens who had joined al-Shabaab. Jehad Serwan Mostafa, a former resident of San Diego, Calif.; and Omar Shafik Hammami, a former resident of Daphne, Ala., are also both on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List.

The State Department said Mostafa, who went to Somalia in 2005, “has served as a media expert and leader of foreign fighters for al-Shabaab.” Hammami, who traveled to Somalia in 2006, “has served as a propagandist for al-Shabaab, helping to recruit English-speaking youth through his writings, rap songs, and video statements. He also has served as a military commander, leading foreign fighters under Jehad Serwan Mostafa.”

Hammami reportedly was killed by other al-Shabaab terrorists in Somalia earlier this month, after a fallout within the group.  His death has not been officially confirmed.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow