FBI: Somalis leaving Minnesota to fight in Syria

FBI: Somalis leaving Minnesota to fight in Syria

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

The FBI says more Somali travelers have left Minnesota, possibly to fight against the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria. Investigators believe those who left Minnesota were motivated by radical ideology, not nationalism.

SOURCE: 12 MINNESOTA SOMALIS HAVE LEFT FOR SYRIA

The FBI has not specified how many people are believed to involved, but a leader in the Minnesota Somali community told Fox 9 News a dozen men have left. The FBI confirmed they have "indications" that some recently traveled overseas. Now, they are reaching out to the large Somali population in Minnesota to learn more.

One young man -- a 20-year-old Somali college student -- left the Twin Cities as recently as last Thursday. He sent a text message to his family from Istanbul, Turkey, to say he was heading to Syria to fight in the holy war. 

If you know anyone who is planning to and/or has traveled to a foreign country for armed combat or who is being recruited for such activities, please contact www.fbi.gov/fttips or call (763) 569-8020. All information will be kept completely confidential.

RECENT SUICIDE BOMBING LINKED TO FLORIDA MAN

The request for tips comes about a week after an American from Florida died in a suicide bombing attack on Syrian government troops in the city of Iblib.

Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, 22, is believed to be the first U.S. citizen involved in a suicide bombing in the civil war's three-year history. His family thought he was in Jordan when he died.

MINNESOTA SOMALI COMMUNITY 'VULNERABLE'

Since 2007, at least 22 young men have left Minnesota to join al-Shabaab in Somalia. Some have died there, and some were even praised as "Minnesota Martyrs" in an elaborate video released last year. 

MORE: Video from al-Shabaab praises 3 Minn. travelers

Some of the so-called travelers were prosecuted for their role in what the FBI has described as one of the largest efforts to recruit U.S. fighters to a foreign terrorist organization, and community activist Abdi Bihi says his community is particularly vulnerable to such efforts due to a lack of jobs, programs and feeling like outsiders. 

"The key of this is the vastness of the vulnerability," he said.

According to Bihi, local Somalis have been talking about the Syrian conflict in recent days and he is worried that a radical element is trying to create a new pipeline of violence. 

"We are very concerned about this summer," Bihi told the Associated Press. "People are shocked. They used to talk about kids leaving from Europe (for Syria). Now, they started talking about here. ... It's insane."

NEW RECRUITING PUSH

In a way, the new travelers could mark a sort of second wave of recruits. Six years ago, Fox 9 News broke the story of 22 young men who traveled to Somalia to fight for al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate. Now, the FBI believes al-Nusra, which is also linked to al-Qaeda, could be coming to call too -- but the former first secretary to the Somali mission to the UN says all of al-Qaeda's branches have the same roots.

"They all have the same mission. They all have the same agenda. The name doesn't make a heck of a difference," Omar Jamal told Fox 9 News. "If I joined al-Shabaab, it's like I joined al-Qaeda or al-Nusra."

Just last month, a new al-Shabaab recruiting video was released -- and it specifically mentioned Minnesota in a brazen pitch urging possible recruits to catch the next flight to Mogadishu.

"We have to team up with the FBI to help save our children from these crazy people," Jamal insisted.

Although it's unclear how individuals are being recruited in Minnesota, Jamal believes local recruiters could be calling the shots.

"It takes more than Internet access to convince someone to drop the books and go commit a suicide bombing," he said.

However, investigators don't believe Minneapolis is the only place where al-Nusra is fishing for fresh blood. Detectives believe young men are being recruited from parts of Europe and Canada as well, with most travelers making their way to Syria via Cairo or Istanbul.

While the FBI works to determine how the recruits are being courted, sources tell Fox 9 News many of the recruits had no money and no job -- and several of them did attend the same mosque. 

It's estimated that there are as may as 12,000 foreign fighters in Syria now, and there is almost no U.S. intelligence on the ground there anymore. That means there's almost no way of telling if the recruits plan to return to U.S. soil to continue their mission.

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