September 23, 2013

Militants' list of mall attackers – including one from Maine – unconfirmed

Saturday's deadly attack rekindles allegations that al-Shabab may be recruiting Somali immigrants in the Portland area for terrorist activities abroad – though there is no proof.

By J. Craig Anderson canderson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Kenyan security personnel wave at bystanders to take cover as heavy gunfire erupts from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, on Monday.

The Associated Press

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Civilians who had been hiding during a gun battle hold their hands in the air as a precautionary measure before being searched by armed police leading them to safety, inside the Westgate Mall on Saturday.

The Associated Press

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Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who represents Maine's 1st District, was monitoring the situation.

"We are definitely aware of these reports," Pingree spokesman Willy Ritch said. "We have reached out to the White House and the FBI to see if there was any new information that we can get. We don't have any (information) to confirm or contradict it."

Saturday's deadly attack rekindled allegations that al-Shabab may be recruiting Somali immigrants in the Portland area for terrorist activities abroad.

However, there never before has been a reported incident of Somali immigrants in the area being recruited successfully by al-Shabab.

The allegation that Portland is a terrorist recruitment center for al-Shabab dates back to at least March 2009, when an FBI report cited Portland as one of several U.S. cities where members of Somali immigrant populations might be vulnerable to recruitment efforts by the al-Qaida-linked group. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held hearings that same month on al-Shabab's recruitment efforts in the U.S., but the testimony focused largely on Minneapolis.

As of 2012, there were about 6,000 immigrants from Somalia in Maine, including roughly 1,000 members of the Bantu ethnic minority group.

On Sunday morning's "Today" show, NBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann said al-Shabab recruits terrorists from Portland and other U.S. cities, including Minneapolis, San Diego and Seattle.

"These are not places you think of as being headquarters for terrorist groups," Kohlmann said on the program. "Nonetheless, Shabab has had quite a bit of success in terms of finding local people in these different cities ... and bringing them to Somalia."

Kohlmann wasn't the only person to mention Portland on Sunday in relation to the events in Kenya.

U.S. Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, told the New York City news radio station WCBS 880 that officials are aware of 40 to 50 Somali-Americans who have gone back to Somalia to train.

King did not say al-Shabab was actively recruiting in Portland, but he suggested that law enforcement should be examining travel and communications between the U.S. and Somalia.

"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 said, according to an article posted on the CBS New York website.

But local leaders with strong ties to the Somali community said the allegations that Portland is a terrorist recruitment center have no basis in fact.

Somali elder and educator Ahmed Hassan said he has lived in Portland for 17 years and is not aware of a single incident in which a Somali from Maine has been recruited into al-Shabab.

Hassan also said the FBI frequently comes to the Islamic Center of Portland to give talks to the community, and that the agents never have mentioned anything about successful terrorist recruitment efforts in Maine.

He said they almost certainly would have mentioned such a thing if it had happened.

"Portland is a safe and nice place," Hassan said. "Somalis who come here think of it as a safe haven."

Mohamud Barre, executive director of the Somali Culture and Development Association in Portland, questioned why any Somali in Maine would want to return to Somalia, where a bloody civil war has ravaged the country for more than two decades.

Barre said members of the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security maintain open lines of dialog with members of Portland's Somali community to ensure there are no efforts under way to radicalize or recruit people into terrorist groups.

"As a community leader, I've never seen any suspicious activity related to al-Shabab," he said. 

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: @jcraiganderson 

Kevin Miller, the Press Herald's Washington bureau chief, can be contacted at (207) 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

 

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