Peter Bergen: Of al Qaeda's affiliates, Al-Shabaab has had deepest links to the U.S.
He says 15 Americans have died fighting for Al-Shabaab, including suicide bombers
Bergen: Ethiopian invasion of Somalia has played a role in stirring recruitment
He says FBI, Justice Department have cracked down on American support
Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation and the author of “Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden – From 9/11 to Abbottabad.” David Sterman is a graduate student at Georgetown University’s National Security Studies Program.
Of all al Qaeda’s affiliated groups, the Somali terrorist organization Al-Shabaab has over the past several years had the deepest links to the United States. Some 15 Americans have died fighting for Al-Shabaab, as many as four of them as suicide bombers in Somalia, and an American citizen even took up a leadership role in the group.
Al-Shabaab has also found supporters in places as diverse as Seattle, St. Louis, San Diego, Minnesota, Maryland, Ohio and Alabama.
Al-Shabaab had particular success recruiting Somali-Americans to its cause after the Ethiopian army invaded Somalia in 2006, which Al-Shabaab cast as Somalia being taken over by a “crusader” army. Ethiopia is a majority Christian nation.
The largest group of American citizens and residents who have provided manpower and money to Al-Shabaab reside in Minnesota. According to a count by the New America Foundation, 22 residents of Minnesota have funded or fought with Al-Shabaab during the past four years.
Three of them provided funds to Al-Shabaab, and 19 have been indicted for traveling to fight in Somalia or have died in the war there.
The story of Minnesotan support for Al-Shabaab began in late 2007, when Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax, an American citizen of Somali descent in his early 30s, and several other men met at a Minnesota mosque and discussed traveling to Somalis to fight for Al-Shabaab.
That meeting resulted in seven men traveling from Minnesota to Somalia to fight for Al-Shabaab in late 2007.