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Maine African Immigrant Community Doubts Reports of Local Link to Terror Group
09/23/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

There's no confirmation yet on the identity of the terrorists responsible for the shopping mall attack in Kenya that's left more than 60 dead. But reports over the weekend quoted the terrorist group behind the attack, Al Shabab, as saying three of the attackers are from the US including one from Maine.

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The names surfaced on a twitter feed that has since been disabled. Independent Senator Angus King and Democratic Representative Chellie Pingree both issued statements acknowledging the reports, but also urging the public to avoid assigning any blame to the refugee community in general.

It's a message echoed by Maine's Somali community.

Mohamed Yusuf "Somalia has been the victim of 20 years of conflict," said Mohamed Yusuf. "A lot of people came here to America or to where ever to escape the violence."

Yusuf is 24 and he came to live in Maine 20 years ago and is now an international politics major in his final year at USM, specializing in conflict resolution, and nation-building. He's characterizes the Nairobi attack as a desperate attempt to derail the progress that's been made in this year in Somalia, where Kenya has led African Union efforts against Al-Shabab and established control over the capital Mogadishu.

As for the possibility of Al-Shabab recruiting from the streets of Portland, Yusuf just can't see it happening.

Mohamed Yusuf: "Not at all. The local mosques here there's no radical or extremist motives of any kind. It's just a chance for our community to have some semblence of Somalia really."
Tom Porter: "So the message you have really is more appealing for tolerance from fellow Americans not to jump to conclusions?"
MY: "Yes, thank you."

We come here, we brought our kids running from war," said Abdullahi Ahmed. "So going back to war is a no brainer."

Ahmed came to Maine from Somalia 15 years ago. He now teaches High School science in the Portland area. He said if any of Maine's Somalis have been successfully radicalized by Al-Shabab, most community members are unaware of the it.

"My four kids were born in Maine, I work, my wife works here, we have good life here and if there's any thing that the law enforcement is concerned we will work with them, and that's something I expect every Somali to do," Ahmed said. "And if there's radicalization we need to just get rid of it."

So who exactly are Al-Shabab, and how would they go about trying to recruit US citizens?

Barry Cooper Political science professor Barry Cooper at the University of Calgary describes the group as an Al-Qaeda affiliate, inspired by but not directly part of the main Al-Qaeda organization.

"They're centered in central and southern Somalia and for a while they were basically in charge of Mogadishu where they were capable of extracting informal taxes to the tune of about $5 million a month," Cooper said. "This was ended by an African Union peacekeeping invasion essentially, led by Kenya."

Al-Shabab, said Cooper, will regard the attack on the shopping mall in Kenya as a major success, for as well as being a blow against their enemy Kenya, it also shows the world the group is still active and recruiting.

"It's kind of a massive PR campaign to recruit future terrorists," Cooper said. "It's like the attack in Bombay a couple of years, it had a similar purpose. It's not just to kill people, it's to show how effective we are, so come and join us and you can be effective too."

Cooper said a huge amount of planning and training went into the Nairobi attack, and does not expect Al-Shabab to be able to mount another one on this scale for quite some time.

Photo by Tom Porter.

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