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The Vanishing Somali Boys
By Bob Collins
Filed under: Crime and Justice
February 9, 2009 Officials at a local mosque have scheduled a Tuesday news conference to confront growing rumors that they are helping to receuit young Somali men to fight on behalf of Islamic extremists in Somalia. The news conference comes after the Star Tribune asked -- but did not answer -- the question of the mosque's involvement in an article today.
Two weeks ago, National Public Radio reported on the disappearance of young Somalis in several U.S. cities and, like the Star Tribune, it seemed to implicate the Abubakar mosque in Minneapolis.
The most recent disappearances happened last November, on Election Day. That's when 17-year-old Burhan Hassan and six of his friends seemed to vanish. As the rest of the Somali community in the Twin Cities' Cedar-Riverside neighborhood were watching the election returns, the boys slipped away, boarded a plane and headed to Africa.
"My sister called me and said Burhan is missing," says Abdirizak Bihi, Hassan's uncle. He runs a local youth center where all the Somali kids play basketball and video games after school.
So far, officials at the mosque haven't confronted the allegations. In the Star Tribune story, a lawyer in California, said to be a consultant to the mosque, denied any connection.
"To this date, there has never been anything specific to indicate that Abubakar recruits or that anybody at Abubakar said to these young men, 'Go fight Jihad,'" said Mahir Sherif.
Dina Temple-Raston, NPR's national security correspondent, told the network's News & Notes program last week that between a dozen and 20 Somali kids have disappeared. She says nearly all of them were bright, college-bound students, brought up by single mothers near the mosque.
The FBI isn't talking, but the Christian Science Monitor says it stumbled into "an active investigation" in Atlanta last month when an FBI agent showed up at a meeting of Liberians, seeking information about missing Somali boys.
Because Somali kids were disappearing. Not in Atlanta yet, that he knew of. But "six or seven high school kids," former refugees resettled in Minnesota's Twin Cities area, the largest Somali community in the US, had recently been recruited by an extremist group through a mosque there and sent back to Somalia to train as suicide bombers.
Newsweek magazine said the FBI is concerned that the extremist group, al-Shabab (a spokesman for the group is shown below in December promising more attacks in Mogadishu) , might create "sleeper cells" in the United States.
"There is always a concern about spillover, bleed-out, call it what you will," an unnamed U.S. official tracking the case told the Los Angeles Times. "Especially if they were to return on a U.S. passport."
Sheik Abdirahman Ahmed of the mosque denied to Newsweek that any Somalia fighters have lectured at his mosque.
"No one knows for sure who recruited them," the Times quotes Abdisalam Adam, an educator who heads the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Minneapolis. "But they obviously did not wake up one morning and decide to go."