Somali children leave US for Jihad
Parents of Somalis living in America believe their teenage children returned to homeland in order to fight with Islamist rebels against Western-backed government; Abubakar Alsiddiq mosque in Minneapolis denies accusations it pushes disappeared children to fight in African country
MOGADISHU, Somalia - Dozens of Somali children have left the United States in secret to join the Islamist fight against the foreign forces in Somalia.
The largest group comes from Somali families in Minneapolis and Minnesota.
Halima Abdi, a mother of five from Minneapolis describes how one of her children went missing in the US and then called her from Mogadishu.
Abdi says she was surprised when her son didn't come home after she sent him to school on November 2.
“I had returned from work and asked my other children where my son Mohamed Yasin was; but they said they hadn't seen him all day,” Abdi says.
She reported the 14-year-old boy to the police as missing, but they could not find him.
After 10 days she gave up looking for him. One day, she says, a young boy called their phone from Somalia, saying, “Mum, it’s your son Mohamed; I came to Mogadishu to fight against the enemies of Somalia.”
He hung up the phone without saying another word.
She says she was upset that her child went to the anarchic country and took up a gun to fight.
“The only thing I am expecting now is for him to die,” she says tearfully.
Abdi blames the US federal police for her young boy’s disappearance – according to her, it is because of lack of good safeguards at airports.
“How can a very young boy be allowed to fly on a plane? The police are irresponsible,” she says.
Asked about who encouraged her son to take off to Somalia, she says she knows but can’t publicly accuse anyone, adding she has heard that several other young children have left for Somalia in a similar way.
Abdirizaq, another Somali living in Minneapolis, says his 17-year-old nephew and two other young boys went to Somalia one day, and that others have gone in the past.
“We don't know how those children will return home,” he tells The Media Line (TML).
Photo: AMG/TML Photos
Some Somalis believe their disappeared children have died in Somalia, and that others have been wounded.
The strongest indication that American children have died in Somalia is the belief that they were used to carry out a string of coordinated suicide attacks in Somaliland and Puntland, in the north of the country.
The arrival of these children coincided with the invasion of the country by thousands of Ethiopian troops, who defeated a group called the Islamic Courts Union, which ruled the country for six months.
Abdinur Hussein, a Somali national who lives in Minnesota, the state with the largest Somali community in the US, believes that more than 500 youths might have gone to Somalia to fight alongside Islamist rebels.
However, some Somali parents in the US consider reports of children leaving for Somalia to fight a jihad are exaggerated.
Fos ‘Ali is a mother of eight, who says she does not believe these reports are accurate, as she hears them only from some American Somalis.
Imam: Accusations baseless
When children disappear, the parents call the mosques in American cities asking where their children have gone, but they are mostly told, "We don’t know," say Fos.
One of the Somali mosque leaders, Imam Hassan Mohamud, says the reports of missing children have placed a cloud over holding important religious feasts, and he had to postpone a large feast because he was busy answering calls and talking to other imams about the issue.
The mosques’ leaders regularly receive calls accusing them of pushing the disappeared children into joining Islamist fighters in Somalia. Most of the accusations have been directed at the Abubakar Alsiddiq mosque in Minneapolis.
Speaking at a news conference at the mosque, imam Sheikh Abdirahman Ahmed told thousands of Somalis and their American neighbors that the accusations were baseless and it was shameful to accuse the imams of recruiting children to fight in Somalia.
“We teach people religion in our mosque, but it has nothing to do with what these people are framing us for doing,” Ahmed said.
A Somali community member in the US, who declined to give his name, told TML that serious efforts were being made by the authorities to track down children attempting to fly from US airports to Somalia.
Many children have been prevented from boarding planes, as community members and US intelligence officials fear they are joining jihadist groups in Somalia.
“There is a lot of attention from the FBI to stop the children from leaving for Jihad,” he says, referring to extensive investigations and interrogations undertaken by the FBI and CIA in recent months since the issue of the disappearing children emerged.
'We have foreign brothers fighting in our jihad'
While it is not known who pays the children’s travel costs, some US Somalis believe the Islamists in Somalia have recruitment representatives in the US since the children could not join the jihad in Somalia without outside investment and support.
Somali males who have vanished in the US have differing education levels and job prospects, says Dr. Abdullahi Abdi, a US-based Somali educator.
Some are reportedly linked to Somali gangs, while others have been described as intelligent and studious. Some attended college and appeared to have good job prospects.
Some children have thought about joining gangs in the US or leaving for Somalia to fight alongside the Islamists because they are susceptible to "brainwashing," according to Abdi.
There are also concerns in Europe and other continents that children are leaving for jihad in Somalia.
Nearly all the Somali communities believe that the vanishing children join the A’shabab group in Somalia as some video recordings and interviews have been seen with foreigners, including Americans, in its ranks in training camps in Somalia.
A’shabab has previously confirmed it has foreigners in its number.
“We have foreign (brothers) fighting in our jihad and we will show them,” said Sheikh Moqtar Robow Abumansur, the spokesman for A’shabab, which is on the US’ designated list of terrorist groups.
The group opposed the presence in Somalia of Ethiopian troops. The Ethiopians left the country last month as part of the terms of a peace deal brokered between an Islamist opposition group and the Somali transitional government.
At the same time as Somalis in the United States are mystified by the synchronized disappearances of some of their children, some analysts in the region believe that the recruitment of children for jihad will only increase following the departure of the Ethiopian troops.
Article reprinted by permission of The Media Line