Read the full comprehensive report, Al Shabaab's American Recruits (PDF).
A wave of Americans traveling to Somalia to fight with Al Shabaab, the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group, has been described by the FBI as one of the "highest priorities in anti-terrorism."& Americans began traveling to Somalia in 2007 to join Al Shabaab, around the time the group stepped up its insurgency against Somalia's transitional government and its Ethiopian supporters, who have since withdrawn.
These Americans have received weapons training alongside recruits from other countries, and have used the training to fight against the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and the international forces that have backed it. Most of the American men training with Al Shabaab are believed to have been radicalized in the U.S., especially in Minneapolis, and are being recruited by Al Shabaab both on the Internet and in person. Some of these Somali-American recruits have even engaged in suicide bombings in Somalia.
Al Shabaab has also used their American recruits in propaganda efforts to convert more Somali-Americans to their cause. Al Shabaab has featured such recruits, for example, in videos uploaded to the Internet. In one of them, a man identifying himself as Abu Muslim states that "we came from the U.S. with a good life and a good education, but we came to fight alongside our brothers of Al Shabaab...to be killed for the sake of God."
At least some of the recruits seem to have been influenced by a sermon titled "Constants on the Path of Jihad," given by Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Muslim cleric then living in Yemen (it is believed he was killed by a drone strike in September 2011) who frequently targeted English-speaking Muslim audiences with radical on-line lectures encouraging attacks against the West and non-Muslims.
Al Shabaab (Arabic for "The Youth") is an Islamic militant group that seeks to create an Islamic state in Somalia. It began as the military wing of the Somali Council of Islamic Courts, which took over most of southern Somalia in 2006. Though the Council was routed by the Somali government and Ethiopian forces, al Shabaab remained as a clan-based insurgent terrorist group.
Al Shabaab is linked to Al Qaeda both ideologically and through leadership contacts, training and joint operations in the Horn of Africa, according to U.S. officials. It also has ties to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni regional affiliate of Al Qaeda.
Although most of Al Shabaab's violent acts have occurred within Somalia's borders, it has expressed a willingness to attack other targets. In July 2010 it committed twin bombings against targets in Uganda that killed more than 70 people, including an American aid worker.