Confirmation by U.S. officials that two American men with links to Minnesota were killed this past weekend in Syria while fighting for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) serves as the latest indication that ISIS has replaced Al Shabaab in Somalia as the terrorist destination of choice for American militants.
As the number of Americans joining Al Shabaab, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, has steadily decreased over the past few years (more than 60 U.S. citizens and permanent residents have traveled to or attempted to aid or join Al Shabaab since 2007, Americans traveling to or attempted to travel to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS or fight with other terrorist organizations in the region has increased.
Over 100 Americans are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the fighting overall. In 2013 and 2014, 13 Americans have been arrested for travelling or attempting to travel to the region to join ISIS, Jabhat al Nusra (Al Qaeda in Syria) or other terrorist groups.
Six others have reportedly been killed, including Abdirahmaan Muhumed, the 29-year-old Somali-American from Minnesota killed this past weekend with Douglas McAuthur McCain from San Diego/Minnesota, Moner Abu Salha from Florida, Nicole Mansfield from Michigan, Amir Farouk Ibrahim of Pennsylvania, and a man using the pseudonym Abu Dujana Al-Amriki, whose background is unclear.
Abdirahmaan Muhumed was apparently one of 15 Somali Americans from Minnesota under investigation by the FBI for travelling to Syria. ISIS has reportedly sent representatives to recruit from the Twin Cities, alarming community leaders.
Muhumed and McCain reportedly interacted on social media before their deaths; McCain allegedly wrote on Muhamed’s Facebook wall, telling him to “continue protecting our brothers and sisters.” McCain was also friends with at least one other individual who apparently traveled abroad to join a terrorist organization.
McCain’s apparent high school friend, Troy Kastigar, became a member of Al Shabaab and was featured in an English-language propaganda video called “The Path to Paradise,” in which he encouraged Americans to join the terror group. “This is the best place to be,” said Kastigar in the video, “This is the real Disneyland and you should come here and join us, take pleasure in this fun…. Come here and join us so that we can die for the sake of Allah.”
Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, who was indicted on terrorism charges in 2008 for joining Al Shabaab, was also an apparent friend of McCain’s. Hassan’s statements on Twitter after McCain’s death included, “The Hardest thing in Jihad is when a brother u (sic) love is granted Shahadah [martyrdom]. Today im (sic) experiencing those feelings. May Allah accept @iamthetooth [McCain].”
Hassan, who is believed to still be a member of Al Shabaab in Somalia, has encouraged other extremists to consider joining ISIS. In one response on Ask.FM, he wrote, “Fighting Jihad in other Jihadi fronts is good. I'm not saying you shouldn't, but I recommend Sham [Syria] because our prophet pbuh [peace be upon him] recommended sham so i'll (sic) go with that.”
Al Shabaab itself appears to have taken a similar strategy of encouraging travel to any terror front. In the sixth installment of its English-language video series Mujahideen Moments, released August 27, an apparent Al Shabaab militant called on “Muslims, those that are living the U.S., especially in Minnesota, and Great Britain, Germany, and many parts of the kuffar [apostate] world” to travel abroad to join the fight in terrorist conflict zones including Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.