Sometimes it seems that Minnesota is ground zero in the war against terrorism. The problem is that we’re on the wrong side. This week we learned that two men identified as Minnesotans had died fighting for the Islamic State in Syria and now is such a time. Reporting from ground zero, we pause to ask what is happening here?
One of the two — Abdiraaman Muhumed — was a Somali Muslim. He is one of several such “Minnesotans” to have departed Minnesota to fight with Islamic terrorists. The other reported to have died — the inauspiciously named Douglas McAuthur McCain — was a former Minnesota resident by way of Chicago and a Muslim convert. He was a friend of another such Muslim convert — Troy Kastigar. McCain and Kastigar were classmates at Robbinsdale high schools. Their path to Islam is not clear, but it undoubtedly originated in Minnesota, from which they joined several other “Minnesotans” who following a similar path to jihad. McCain reportedly moved in to live Kastigar in 2000-2001. One infers that McCain followed Kastigar’s path, Kastigar enlisting in al Shabab and McCain in IS. Among the common denominators were their friendship in Minneapolis, their conversion to Islam and their pursuit of jihad.
According to the Star Tribune, they both converted to Islam in early adulthood. The Star Tribune also reports without explanation that Kastigar “went by the nickname Abdirahman.” Before he blew himself up for jihad, Kastigar appeared in the al Shabab recruiting video featuring jihadists from Minnesota. The New York Times circles around McCain and gets approximately nowhere.
This much we have on good authority. The Minnesota connection to the jihad phenomenon “began in 2007 with the young Somali men traveling from Minnesota to Somalia,” according to the director of the local FBI Chief Divison Counsel quoted by ABC News. “In Somalia, it started as a nationalistic call…[but] we’ve now seen where some individuals perhaps are not interested or not inclined to travel to Somalia, [they] start to branch out to other hot spots around the globe, obviously Syria being among them.”
“Nationalistic” is a euphemism. For “nationalistic,” read “religious.” And the problem is growing. To borrow the cliché invoking dots, Michael Walsh connects them here.
As I have noted here several times, and I am repeating myself now, Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community in the United States. We know amazingly little about them, probably because we are afraid to ask the relevant questions. We know they are mostly Muslim — we can see the hijabs, we are familiar with the many local controversies to which their faith has given rise over the past 10 years — but are they loyal residents or citizens of the United States? In the conflict between the United States and the Islamist forces with which we are contending, whose side are they on?
Only three years ago a terror trial in Minneapolis concluded with a raft of guilty verdicts that raised serious questions of loyalty. The two defendants were women convicted of charges including conspiracy to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization, of providing support, and of lying to the FBI. The “terrorist organization” was al Shabab.
The ringleader was not exactly remorseful after the jury returned its guilty verdicts. According to a contemporaneous AP report, she stood before the judge and stated through an interpreter: “I am very happy.” She added that she knew she was going to heaven. As I noted here at the time, she may be going to heaven, but she’ll be stopping off in prison first. As for the rest of us, she advised: “You will go to hell.” The feeling was mutual.
I have been told by law enforcement authorities that the investigation leading to the 2011 trial has consumed the local FBI office for the past seven years. The investigation also resulted in a string of guilty pleas (at least one such plea dating back as far 2009) involving local Somali men supporting al Shabab. Investigators believe at least 21 Somali men have left Minnesota to join al Shabab. We’re a little concerned the that the departed jihadists might choose to return to Minnesota and continue the jihad.
What about the rest of the local Somali community? Members of the local Somali community materialized at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis to support the women at trial, but not because they held the charges to be unfounded. The members of the local Somali community appearing at the courthouse never bothered to cite any evidence of innocence. The question was beside the point. No voice expressly spoke up on behalf of law-abidingness or loyalty to the United States.
In the National Affairs essay “The Muslim-American muddle,” Peter Skerry expressly raised the question of loyalty in the context of America’s Muslim population in general. The essay is by turns infuriating and illuminating, but at least it licensed inquiry into the question.
Indeed, Skerry took the question seriously and provided evidence supporting the concerns of “alarmists,” noting the striking absence of any acknowledged tie to the United States on the part of important Muslim organizations. Skerry contrasted “complacent elites” with “alarmist populists.” I would place Skerry on the complacent side of the divide and myself on the alarmist side, although Skerry placed himself (of course) in the middle as the voice of reason mediating between the two camps. But Skerry concludes the essay on what I would characterize as an alarmist (i.e., realistic) note.
Along the way, Skerry seemed to me to treat several basic issues (including assimilation) in a conclusory and question-begging fashion. He cited the naturalization of Muslim immigrants and their involvement in American politics, supporting Democrats, as factors supporting (I will say) complacency. Yet the two defendants in the Minneapolis terror trial were both naturalized citizens. And CAIR has formed a fruitful alliance with Democrats going back to its days as a Hamas front group (Skerry suggests that those days are behind it). Skerry rightly observed: “It is astonishing, given th[e history of CAIR], that the mainstream American media should routinely describe CAIR as ‘a Muslim civil rights organization.’”
Skerry failed to raise the question whether the immigration spigot should remain open while we sort out the serious issues that he addressed in his essay. The question didn’t even seem to cross his mind. In any event, Skerry’s essay badly needs to be updated. In the meantime, we can only try to be clear about what is happening here.