Brian Levin, J.D. Headshot

Americans Waging Jihad, A Half World Away From Home

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Half a world away from the chaos of this week's Nairobi mall siege, the shadowy terror group al-Shabaab claims another decimated, though hardly innocent life. Outside of Minneapolis, in Burnsville, MN lies "Garden of Eden," a peaceful flat green swath of cemetery gently punctuated by trees and a simple unassuming small granite arch. Among those buried there is someone who threw away a tremendous opportunity at a peaceful fulfilling American life.

Shirwa Ahmed is buried there in an unmarked grave. He came to America around the age of 12, went to the prom, graduated high school, attended college briefly before leaving Minnesota, home to America's largest Somali population, to blow himself to pieces in northeastern Africa. Harkened by the siren song of war, vengeance and martyrdom the unassuming naturalized U.S. citizen became the first identified American suicide bomber.*

On October 29, 2008 he drove a truck bomb for al-Shabaab, into an intelligence service building in Puntland, Northern Somalia as part of a coordinated bombing campaign that left over two dozen dead. He is one of somewhere between thirty to fifty Muslim Somali immigrants from the Minneapolis area who have disappeared since 2007. All presumably travelling to wage jihad, leaving their mostly moderate families and community leaders reeling. The FBI states at least six known former Minnesota residents have been killed in Somalia and CNN reports two more have just left in the last month. This summer nine were convicted in federal court in Minnesota on terror related charges. Though not yet confirmed by the United States, on PBS Kenya's Foreign Minister stated three American teenagers, including two from Minnesota took part in this week's siege:

MARGARET WARNER: And the Americans?

AMINA MOHAMED: The Americans, from the information we have, are young men, about between maybe 18 and 19.

MARGARET WARNER: Of Somali origin?

AMINA MOHAMED: Of Somali origin or Arab origin, but that lived in the U.S., in Minnesota and one other place. So, basically, look, that just was to underline, I think, the global nature of this war that we're fighting.

A Regional Terror Group Becomes Something Different
Among the Salafist terror groups affixing the al Qaeda label to their violence, arguably none has done a better job of recruiting Americans to its operational roster overseas than al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab, meaning the youth in Arabic, is a Salafist Somali terror group, that merged with al Qaeda in 2012. It is behind the Westgate Mall massacre and siege in Nariobi, that left at least 67 dead in an apparent revenge attack for Kenyan military operations against the terror group in Somalia. A revenge attack on the 2010 World Cup Soccer games in Kampala, Uganda for their military operations left 74 dead. When not doing big evil things, they are proficient at smaller ones, like stoning a thirteen year old rape victim to death before a packed stadium.

Al-Shabaab is the latest of a series of violent fundamentalist Somali Muslim groups to fight for control of war torn Somalia after two decades of military rule crumbled in 1991. In 2006 an alliance of al-Shabaab and the Islamic Courts Union gained control over key parts of Somalia including its capital.

Foreign intervention including operations from Ethiopia and Kenya as well as international consortiums of various African armies drove al-Shabaab South from its urban power bases, where it made millions of dollars in levying fees on most things including food aid to the starving residents of one of the world's most destitute nations. After recent power struggles, however, al Qaeda central led by bin Laden heir Ayman al-Zawahiri have solidified their influence on the organization and its attack plans. The violence perpetrated by the group comes in the wake of bloody internal disputes and severe military and economic losses.

Another American Life Wasted
Before he was leading violent guerillas in Somalia for al-Shabaab, Omar Hammami, was a former soccer playing school class president and promising college student from Daphne, Alabama. He left America to fight and to make rap and recruitment videos glorifying killing and martyrdom. In "Make Jihad With Me," Hammami sings "Attack America now! Martyrdom or victory. ...We are wiping Israel clear off the globe!" Later known as Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, the twitter loving son of a Christian American mom and Syrian father, who inspired other Americans to violence, for al Shabaab, was killed by a member of the very group he so zealously promoted. Earlier this month the wanted criminal, with a five million dollar American bounty on his head for providing material support to terrorists, was killed by Sheik Abu Mohammed. Hammami, who wanted to die a martyr, joins Shirwa Ahmed, who previously appeared in one of his videos. The vexing question for analysts is who will be next to get their death wish and where and how will it occur?

*A Jordanian, Raed Mansour Albanna, 32, who once lived in Southern California for a year and a half, but never obtained citizendship, killed 166 in one of Iraq's deadliest attacks near a health clnic in Hilla, on February 28, 2005.