September 25, 2013

Officials grow skeptical of Maine link to terror attack

Investigators have yet to issue an official denial, but community leaders know of no connection.

By David Hench
Staff Writer

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Abdullahi Ahmed, a science teacher at Deering High School and a member of the local Somali community, speaks with the press after a meeting with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree at the Islamic Society of Portland on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

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Mohamud Barre, Executive Director of the Somali Culture and Development Association of Maine, holds American and Somalian flags as members of the local Somali community speak with the press after a meeting with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree at the Islamic Society of Portland on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

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Special Agent Todd Defide, based in Portland, said he meets informally with leaders in the Somali community two or three times a year.

Sue Durkin, community affairs specialist in the Boston field office, said in a prepared statement that the FBI develops relationships with members of the community to maintain open lines of communication.

"We have done that with Somali communities all across the nation including Portland," Durkin said.

"During the meetings in Maine, issues we have discussed include the influence of gangs, drugs, and civil rights concerns. Within that context, we've spoken about the FBI's efforts to thwart terrorism by asking all members of the public to be aware of signs of terrorism," she said.

Mohamud Barre, who has participated in FBI outreach efforts while serving as executive director of the Somali Culture and Development Association, said he has not been contacted by the FBI since the attack.

In a brief interview Tuesday, Maine's Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, "I have been in touch with the National Counterterrorism Center and they are unable to confirm the presence of Americans" in the attack in Kenya.

Sen. Angus King said intelligence staffers in his office have had discussions with the National Counterterrorism Center, a multi-agency center that was established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to improve communication and cooperation among intelligence programs.

"As of this morning, they haven't heard anything new," said King.

One of the more vocal members of Congress on the al-Shabab issue is Rep. Peter King of New York, a Republican who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

King was chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee in 2011 when it held hearings on al-Shabab recruitment in the U.S. -- focused almost entirely on Minneapolis -- and released an investigation estimating that at least 40 Americans had joined the group.

On Sunday, King told a New York radio station that "it's important right now for the FBI to go to communities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul, to Portland, Maine -- this is where the Somali-American community is based." King did not say that al-Shabab was recruiting in Portland, according to an article on CBS New York's website.

A spokesman for King did not return repeated phone calls and emails from the Portland Press Herald on Tuesday and Monday.

Osman Hersi, a businessman who participated in Tuesday's meeting in Portland, said the children of Somali immigrants are American.

"They think like Maine. ... They are texting, playing basketball ... they go to dances," Hersi said.

With about 6,000 immigrants, the Somali community may seem large in a rural state like Maine, but it is small enough that members know what is happening in their community, and would know if someone was trying to recruit young people to fight in Africa, leaders said.

Somalis have just three mosques in the state, two in Portland and one in Lewiston, so they are a close-knit group, said Ahmed, the Deering High science teacher.

"Even we know who is having babies," he said. 

Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller contributed to this report. 

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: 

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