Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

American Jihadists and American Suicide-Bombers

Posted in Somalia by Dan on December 4, 2009

Nowadays, clear answers to difficult questions are hard to come by.  When the questions invariably involve American citizens strapping their chests with explosives half-way around the world, the answers become even more complicated.  Unfortunately, the agency that is responsible for keeping tabs on this sort of activity- the Justice Department- seems as lost as the ordinary American.

A month ago, national authorities confirmed that an American participated in a suicide bombing last year that killed 22 people in Somalia.  Strapped with explosives, a man by the name of Shirwa Ahmed drove his truck into a checkpoint as part of an insurgent operation against Ethiopian soldiers in Somalia; the first known terrorist incident conducted by a U.S. citizen overseas.

While shocking, this has not been the last.  A number of Somali-American men over the past year have flown to the Horn of Africa in the hopes of successfully completing this same exact task.  Most have joined Al’Shabab- an Islamic insurgent group with an Al’Qaeda mindset- while others have provided the Islamic insurgency with material support.

Meanwhile, the best explanation the Justice Department can come up with is childlike at best.  Convinced of a more disciplined and exciting life- one that involves the exhilarating act of shooting a gun (no I am not kidding!  This was actually part of the Justice Department’s memorandum on the case) – approximately twenty Somali-Americans decided to commit their lives to the cause of violent Islamic resistance.

Based on the billions of dollars the Justice Department gets on an annual basis, one would think that the leadership of America’s most powerful law enforcement agency could come up with a more reasonable clarification.

Can we be anymore specific as to why Somali-Americans are joining the jihad in and around Mogadishu?  Recruiters enticing Americans solely on the basis of guns is pretty far-fetched to me.  Are we to honestly believe that 20 Somali-Americans from Minneapolis decided to travel thousands upon thousands of miles to THE most dangerous and anarchic society in the world, just to play with a few guns?  Either the Justice Department has no idea what the motives are, or they are deliberately keeping information from the public.

Let’s look at the basics of Somali culture.  First and foremost, there is a large Somali community within the United States as a whole, and most of these men and women take pride in being part of a distinct Somali culture.  Secondly, Ethiopia- a country that is historically hostile to Somalia in general- launched a brutal and humiliating two-year invasion of the country in order to topple an Islamic Courts Union within Mogadishu; the same union that gave Somalia a relative degree of stability for the first time since 1991.  Finally, the Somali population was heavily victimized by the Ethiopian occupation.  A number of NGO’s familiar with the conflict reported that Ethiopian soldiers committed war crimes against innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.

To make matters worse, the United States was rather quick to publicly back the occupation with logistical support.  Not surprisingly, this cooperation largely resulted from Washington’s premature assessment of the Islamic Courts Union as a potentially dangerous regime that would sponsor terrorism and harbor Al’Qaeda.  A remarkable part of the whole story is that Washington blessed the Ethiopian mission despite the fact that much of the ICU was composed of moderates and clansmen who possessed no interest in jihad.

Perhaps this small group of Somali-Americans felt as if their culture was being sabotaged by a foreign neighbor, thereby prompting them to resist the Ethiopian occupation for the sake of their homeland’s survival and dignity.  Perhaps the 20 men from the Minneapolis area felt so strongly about Somalia’s domestic situation that they wanted to help in any way they could…even if this meant dying on the front-lines through suicide bombings and lone shootings.  Or perhaps these men were interested in Al’Shabab’s political ideology, an Al’Qaeda proxy-group that attempts to establish an Islamic state in the Horn of Africa.  If the latter is indeed the case, it would prove that radical elements of the Muslim world are currently residing inside U.S. borders.

Regardless of the true reason, it would appear that all of the aforementioned scenarios are more plausible than what the Justice Department is telling us.  People do not join terrorist camps to simply get the experience.  They join the ranks of fundamentalist networks to feed their belief in a cause they label as both crucial and worthwhile.

-Daniel R. DePetris


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