As some may remember, there was a brief flurry of media attention last year regarding the whereabouts of a number of Somali-Americans from the Minneapolis area, with the suspicion raised that several had joined up with militia groups in their homeland, including al-Shabaab. At that time, Sen. Joseph Lieberman labeled the issue the, "[M]ost serious instance of homegrown terrorism in the United States...There obviously are people here in the United States recruiting young Somali-Americans to go over to Somalia to be trained to fight."
Well, it now appears that the problem has spread to the Somali community in Canada. This week news broke that at least one young man who had been living in Toronto had returned to Somalia and reportedly been killed while fighting with al-Shabaab in that country. The man, identified by CBC News as Mohammed Elmi Ibrahim, was in his early-20s and had been an English major at the University of Toronto before disappearing some 18 months ago. A video purported to originate from al-Shabaab is the source of the news about his apparent death in combat.
(Last week, the Canadian government added al-Shabaab to its list of outlawed terrorist groups, as a result of the linkage between Shabaab and al-Qaeda.)
It is also being reported that at least five other young men have disappeared since last September, and that all belonged to the same Toronto-area mosque that Ibrahim attended. It is believed that these others may have also joined up with al-Shabaab's forces.
The attraction of young men from North America to head to their ancestral homelands and fight for a cause is nothing new. In just the last two decades, members of many ethnic groups living in Canada have taken up arms to fight abroad (think, for instance, of the Balkan wars). In this case, though, it has rattled many Somali-Canadians - and a number of other observers - who fear that that extremists are actively recruiting from within the community and those individuals could return here and pose security risks. It should be noted, however, that support for al-Shabaab among Somali-Canadians appears to be marginal, at best.
But some young men do appear to be heading to the Horn of Africa to fight. There's an excellent article by The National Post's Stewart Bell that was posted yesterday, in which the journalist provides an in-depth perspective of just what the attractions are for young Somali-Canadians. It centers on the experiences on one man who left Toronto to take up arms with al-Shabaab before becoming disillusioned with the group's ideologies and returning to Canada last year. Well worth a read for anyone wondering what propels someone to leave the comforts of North America and head to a war zone.