September 24, 2013

Officials won't say if Maine suspected of terrorist links

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A day after a Twitter post linked Maine to Saturday's terrorist attack in a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, law enforcement officials refused to say whether they are investigating the possibility that radical Islamist groups are trying to recruit new members in the state.

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A soldier holds a RPG near the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, as smoke rises from it, Monday Sept 23 2013. Islamic extremist gunmen lobbed grenades and fired assault rifles inside Nairobi's top mall Saturday, killing dozens and wounding over a hundred in the attack. A day after a Twitter post linked Maine to Saturday's terrorist attack in a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, law enforcement officials refused to say whether they are investigating the possibility that radical Islamist groups are trying to recruit new members in the state. (AP Photo/ Sayyid Azim)

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Smoke rises over Westgate shopping centre after an explosion in Nairobi, September 23, 2013. A day after a Twitter post linked Maine to Saturday's terrorist attack in a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, law enforcement officials refused to say whether they are investigating the possibility that radical Islamist groups are trying to recruit new members in the state. (REUTERS/Karel Prinsloo)

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Gunmen from the Somali group al-Shabab attacked the Westgate mall in Nairobi, killing at least 62 people and taking an unknown number of hostages. On Sunday, a list of 17 supposed attackers and their home towns or states was posted on a Twitter account purportedly run by al-Shabab. One was listed as being from Maine.

The list surprised many in law enforcement who scrambled Monday to determine its authenticity.

"There's still no confirmation of the names that were out there on Twitter that were alleged to have been from the U.S.," said Paul Bresson, a spokesman for the FBI in Washington. "We don't have the identities confirmed."

Bresson would not say what the bureau was doing to verify the list or confirm whether the Twitter post came from al-Shabab.

The Washington Post reported that al-Shabab said it had not issued the tweet and had not released names or any other details about the people in the attack. That was verified by a group that tracks extremist groups, the Post reported.

The Kenyan foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, told PBS NewsHour that "two or three" Americans are among the gunmen. He described them as "young men ... between maybe 18 and 19," of Somali or Arab origin.

However, early in the day, BBC reported on Twitter that Abu Omar, al-Shabab's military commander in Somalia, denied that any "Britons or Americans" had participated in the attack.

Even before the list was published, terrorism analysts and a congressional leader on terrorism issues, Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., said the FBI should be probing communities including Portland for possible recruitment of al-Shabab terrorists.

King said al-Shabab has recruited as many as 50 people from Somali-American communities and 15 to 20 of them remain active.

For its size, Maine has a large population of Somali immigrants. But the Somali communities in Portland, Lewiston and Auburn are much smaller than those in some other states.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said he knows of no efforts by terrorists to recruit in the city.

"I've never been informed by Portland police or other law enforcement there has been that activity in the city," Brennan said. "We have been in touch with the police department. At this point, we don't know anything more than the allegation."

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said that anything terrorism-related is under federal jurisdiction. He did say that his department and the FBI have communicated, but he would not describe what local officers are doing to support a federal investigation.

"I don't want to talk about anything operationally," Sauschuck said. "The radicalization of individuals stateside has been a concern of the federal government for some time and they've passed along those concerns to law enforcement officers nationally."

Members of Maine's congressional delegation treaded carefully around the issue on Monday.

The office of Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat whose district includes Portland, had been in touch with the FBI, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies.

In a prepared statement, Pingree said it is important not to jump to conclusions about possible terrorist connections to Portland.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Smoke rises from the Westgate shopping center after explosions at the mall in Nairobi on Monday.

Reuters

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People take cover behind a car along a road during heavy gunfire at Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi September 23, 2013. A day after a Twitter post linked Maine to Saturday's terrorist attack in a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, law enforcement officials refused to say whether they are investigating the possibility that radical Islamist groups are trying to recruit new members in the state. (REUTERS/Noor Khamis)

REUTERS

 


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