The FBI is testing the remains of two suicide bombers who blew themselves up in Somalia over the weekend. A website affiliated with the terrorist group al-Shabab has claimed one of the bombers was an American citizen.
Kyle Loven, the FBI's chief division counsel in Minneapolis, said the FBI's lab in Quantico, Va., could take days or even weeks to complete the analysis.
"It's hard to say," Loven said. "We're going to do a thorough analysis and make certain that we're able to 100 percent identify this person. We're hoping that will be done relatively soon, but we're just not able to put an exact time frame on it yet."
Some Somali community members in the Twin Cities, including Somali diplomat Omar Jamal, are convinced the bomber is Abdisalan Hussein Ali. The former University of Minnesota student was studying pre-med before he left for Somalia in 2008. Meanwhile, a Somali government official tells MPR News that its investigators believe one of the bombers was from Minnesota. If that's the case, he would be the third man from the state — and the fourth American — to become radicalized and stage a suicide attack in his native Somalia.
But details still remained sketchy, with several Somali-American community members in Minnesota questioning media reports naming Ali as the bomber. Three friends who went to school with Ali dispute that it's his voice on an audio interview that al-Shabab posted. The extremist militia claims the man on the recording is one of two suicide bombers that attacked an African Union compound Saturday. At least 10 people were killed.
Somalia hasn't had a working central government for 20 years, and reporting on suicide attacks that have plagued the country in recent years has been tricky.
Last spring, Jamal, as first secretary of the Somali Mission to the United Nations, released the name of a bomber who plotted an attack at a government checkpoint in Mogadishu. But several days later, the FBI confirmed the bomber was a different man. Using fingerprints, the bureau determined that Farah Mohamed Beledi, formerly of St. Paul, tried to blow himself up May 30 before he was shot to death.
The FBI can also use DNA from the blast site to confirm an identity. If there's reason to believe one of the bombers was from Minnesota, investigators could take hair, swabs, or other samples from family members to make a match.
Suldan Ahmed Farah, a spokesman for Somali President Sheik Sharif Ahmed, said a preliminary investigation suggests one of the bombers was from Minnesota. But he stopped short of identifying him. Farah said the man was believed to be around 22 or 23, and a U.S. citizen of Somali descent.
"There were some phone conversations he had with some people within the country, but also within the United States, we believe, to express exactly what he was going to do," he said in an interview.
Farah would not comment on how Somalia's investigators gathered the evidence, and stressed that the investigation is far from over. He is awaiting a final report from Somalia's national security unit.
The bigger story, Farah said, is that young Somali men from the West are going back to their homeland to do harm at a time of extreme human suffering, civil war, and famine. Farah, a former marketing professional who grew up in the United Kingdom, returned to Mogadishu about a year ago to help serve his country.
"The tragedy of what's happening with these young men is they need to be playing an active role in rebuilding this country and helping these people," Farah said. "And instead, they take the line of terrorists who are trying to destroy this nation... its culture, its heritage, its people, its well-being. That's exactly what they're here to do."
The FBI is leading a three-year-long investigation into the travels of at least 21 Minnesota men who left for Somalia, allegedly to join al-Shabab.
According to community members in Minnesota, nine are believed to have died in the fighting, including two who were suicide bombers. Three have come back to Minnesota, cooperated with the investigation, and are awaiting sentencing. That leaves at least nine men who are believed to be overseas, and possibly still fighting.
In the audio recording released over the weekend, the alleged al-Shabab bomber from the U.S. calls on Muslims all over the world, including those in the United States, to fight "jihad" against nonbelievers.