Somali Americans on FBI radar screen

The FBI is keeping a close watch on American minority communities as Al-Qaeda is successfully recruiting American citizens to fight the jihadist cause in the US and abroad, Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, told RT.

RT:The House Homeland Security Committee says that al-Shabaab has recruited up to 50 Somali-Americans. Why are American citizens joining this extremist group?

Brian Levin: There are a couple of ways. There is a Somali community in the Minneapolis area, which is very much against what is going on here by the way, but that has been the main recruiting spot for the small, small splint of youth. But then again, al-Shabaab means “the youth.” There have been a few extremists there that were able to convince others to join them. There also has been an effort through the internet and other online publications to recruit young, Westernized Muslim youth of the world to come to that area. In fact, the first American suicide bomber, Shirwa Ahmed, who blew himself up in October 2008 was with al-Shabaab and came from the Minneapolis area.

RT:What are the special things they appeal to in order to get the young people recruited? Is it the US wars on terror and their use of drones or is it an appeal towards religious sensibilities and fanaticism?

BL: I think you are right on target. There are those two things - this kind of religious purity, finding this authentic version of the faith. There is also this kind of youthful anti-establishment, anti-western military response. I also feel there is something else; this “jihadi cool” which has permeated through social media - and Al-Qaeda has been successful using that. Al-Shabaab only joined with Al-Qaeda in 2012, but they have been around for some time. 

Smoke rises from the Westgate mall in Nairobi on September 23, 2013. (AFP Photo/Carl de Souza)

RT:There are concerns that some of the Al-Qaeda recruited American citizens could return to the US and carry out extremist activity there. What measures should Washington take to avoid this?

BL: That is something that we are very concerned about and the FBI has done extensive investigation on this. I think they lack, at least in the past, the capabilities of doing so, because those people are going to be watched. But it certainly is possible, and they are certainly on the radar screen. But remember that al-Shabaab is located in Somalia in East Africa and they have been under a lot of pressure. They used to control a large part of the urban areas of that country where they were taxing citizens and imports which were giving them tens of millions of dollars a year. They are now relegated to the south rural areas, so now they are in the fight almost for their own survival. So a lot of this punch-back, whether it be in Nairobi, Kenya or at the World Cup soccer game in Kampala a couple of years ago, is more of a regional revenge kind of thing. Could this be something that spirals out and reaches internationally because they are getting recruits from the US and elsewhere? Absolutely. Has it happened yet? No. But we’re keeping an eye out.

RT:According to Kenya's Foreign Minister Al-Qaeda cooperated with al-Shabaab during the siege of the mall. Who's calling the shots here?

BL: The ones that are operationally doing it is al-Shabaab from Somalia. Interestingly enough, there is an intermeshing fight between al-Shabaab folks and the Al-Qaeda central folks like Zawahiri, where the Al-Qaeda central folks want out. Also one other thing - recently a young American from Alabama associated with al-Shabaab was killed because he was too much of a loose cannon. So there is a lot of intermeshing battles going on but I think Al-Qaeda central is calling it, but operationally al-Shabaab in Somalia is running it.