The FBI has made public the news that a Somali-American man participated in a suicide attack in Somalia in 2008. The attack killed at least 30 people. As reported in the New York Times, Shirwa Ahmed immigrated to Minneapolis, home to the country's largest Somali population, in the mid-1990s. He, as well as a number of other of young Somali immigrant men, returned to Somalia after their recruitment by Islamist militants.
The FBI identifies the recruiters as members of Al Shabab, who gained ground when fighting against Ethiopian troops who backed a U.S. supported transitional government installed in early 2007. In the U.S. press, Al Shebab is almost always identified as being linked to Al Qaeda. Al Shebab, however, is far from a unified group in Somalia, as Human Rights Watch pointed out in December 2008: "Al Shabaab is...plagued with internal divisions and even more radical groups have splintered off from it. It has also spawned a broad range of localized imitators who claim to be Al Shabab fighters even though they are operating largely on their own." Somalis themselves are reported to be uninspired by the strict form of Islam advocated by Al Shebab; most would prefer a moderate Islamist government.
In Minneapolis, the families of other young men who appear to have departed to fight have expressed deep concern and puzzlement over their missing young. The FBI estimates that from a dozen to up to twenty men have returned to Somalia to do battle, according to the LA Times. Although it is clear from the little evidence there is that recruitment takes place in an Islamic idiom, headlines announcing systematic "radicalization" of these Somali immigrants are overstated.
The exact motivations that prompt action is likely to include a mix of loyalties to clan and nation, as well as Islam. The men who have left are immigrants who may have minimal education or anchoring in their new communities. They are in late adolescence. It is unlikely that their motives are entirely clear to themselves. Preventing further recruitment may be less a matter of either counterterrorism tactics or focusing on Islamic centers or mosques, than one of encouraging better integration of vulnerable immigrants into American communities.
The Muslim community in Minneapolis, along with American Islamic organizations, has responded quickly to the news by seeking to strengthen ties with the local law enforcement and with the rest of the community.