The LA Times (January 18, 2009 - "Young men vanish into Somalia") and Newsweek (January 24, 2009- Recruited for Jihad)ran articles on the vanishing young Somali American men who are reportedly joining jihadist groups in their home country. According to the LA Times article, "Anguished Minnesota families say a group of seven youths who vanished on Nov. 4 may have gone to join an Islamist militia. They aren't the first to leave," but part of a troubling trend of vanishing children.
It is believed that as many as 20 naturalized Somali Americans have recently vanished without any prior knowledge of their parents and joined the more radical Al-Shabab, "the youth" - an Islamist firebrand aligned to al-Qaeda. Al-shabab is an extremist group whose political objective is to establish a non-secular Sharia-based government in Somalia. So far, at least one naturalized American citizen had committed suicide in this past October, killing 30 people in northern Somalia. Most available evidence points at the Al-Shabab group who either train or commit the vanished youth to suicidal acts.
The US government has included Al-shabab to its foreign terrorist list on February 29, 2008, by a directive that the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, signed. The directive designated al-Shabaab as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
It is disconcerting to learn that both the FBI and the Somali community did little to stop the anguish of boys disappearing from their homes. This is so because there is no meaningful cooperation between FBI and the Somali community either in Minnesota or elsewhere in the country. If any cooperation existed, protecting young Somali-American boys from exploitation by "terror networks" amongst us could have been a lot easier.
Both the FBI and the Somali community are at fault here and deserve serious criticism. For one, the FBI could be blamed for sleeping at the wheel in that it had failed to unveil a "network of terror" that has been transporting high school kids from North American cities to Somalia. It should have taken a little effort on the part of FBI to find out the adults who assist 17-year-old kids from our own American inner cities get their US passports, collect transport allowance amounting $3,000 each, a well arranged rout to Mogadishu, Somalia. But the FBI has royally failed in making any dent on a "network of terror" in our midst.
Some of the challenges the FBI faces include how to unveil the identities of all those adults involved, where they reside, and whether they are Somalis or a combination of Somalis and other nationals. Without witch-hunt, the FBI must seriously investigate the role of local mosques ran by extremist-leaning Islamist activists, if any, and the role they play in organizing infrastructural network for this particular operation. Unveiling these networks is a key component of national security as well as helping our vanishing Somali-American youths.
The Somali community also must shoulder some of the responsibilities. It is inescapable not to admit that someone belonging to the Somali community is facilitating this troubling operation.
Horrendous stories, where boys as young as 12-years-old are temporarily removed from the protection of their families to commit them to a religious obligation program called "Da'wa," are abundant in Minnesota and elsewhere. For a child to complete his religious obligations, the presiding mosque would assign a local priest as a caretaker for a bunch of boys during the entire period of the "Da'aw," sometimes an entire summer vacation with no communication with their parents. The only information availed to the parents during this period is occasional but limited status report on the kids and the progress of their religious obligation, most often provided by the Mosque-assigned caretaker.
Currently, there is no system of accountability of the so-called "Da'wa" religious obligation and its caretakers; no known system of background clearance through a joint government-mosque program is in place.
With eyes turned away from the most basic public safety issue - protecting our most vulnerable population group - hundreds of Somali families in Minnesota and in other cities are handing their most precious thing in life, their teenage boys, to non-relative individuals whom neither local or national law enforcement communities had conducted any background check up.
Why did this phenomenon go on unabated for several years? Is it because the problem is confined to immigrant African/Muslim Somalis? Had it not been a mutual suspicion that exists between law enforcement and the Somali communities, we could have saved some of the lost kids. Due to the heavy handedness of the FBI in its zealous pogrom against Somalis in Minnesota in the wake of 9/11, where innocent individuals, including some mentally sick individuals, were falsely imprisoned or deported, there certainly exist little or no cooperation between the two.
In light of the weight of the problem, there is an urgent need to bring about a non-antagonistic cooperation between the law enforcement and the Somali communities to cooperate and assess this matter both as a child abuse as well as a national security issue.
The current antagonistic relationship between the two sides, where law enforcement views all Somalis as a suspecting Muslim group, must move towards a cooperative and consultative relationship. A big part of any relationship must include comprehensive outreach program to help educate the community about questions of "networks of terror," early detection of suspicious activities, and the whole question of child protection from all sorts of exploitation, including religious exploitations. Or else, Somali Americans could be witnessing the vanishing of more teenage boys into a world of "networks of terror" ran and operated right here in our neighborhoods.
Faisal A. Roble