As FBI agents in Nairobi worked with Kenyan authorities to identify the attackers in a shooting siege on Saturday that left more than 70 people dead, a great deal of media attention has shifted to the Twin Cities.
News outlets from all over the world are intensifying the glare on the nation's largest Somali-American population, trying to determine if any of the community's young men were involved in the attacks.
The Somali terror group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the assault on the Westgate shopping mall, and Kenyan officials have said "two or three" Americans were involved. But FBI officials say the agency has yet to confirm the names and nationalities of the attackers.
Under the spotlight, Somali professionals in Minnesota are raising awareness about the challenges facing young Somalis -- while trying to repair their community's image.
“Nobody becomes radicalized overnight. This is a process. These folks who are involved in these attacks are missing gaps, whether it's job development, a lack of mentorship.”Mohamed Farah, Ka Joog founder
When asked how al-Shabab appeals to young men whose families came to Minnesota for a better life, Abdul Mohamed said the targets are often vulnerable.
"Al-Shabab, as a terrorist organization, they're very good at what they do," said Mohamed told reporters today. "They tell these children there's a better life for you, and they use religious justification to back their recruitment efforts."
Some young men might be socially isolated, may not feel welcome in this country, or may believe their lives have hit dead ends, said Mohamed, a member of the nonprofit Ka Joog. The group of college students and graduates are mentoring their younger peers through the arts.
At a press conference, Abdi "Phenomenal" Farah, a 26-year-old spoken-word artist, gave reporters a taste of what Ka Joog is about by reciting a poem he had written.
"Caught in the sense of our dreams being broken,
The youth have no choice but have to sell their dreams for a token.
And old age is unnoticed,
The youth unfocused,
Al-Shabab trying to tell you, 'We'll bring change,
But only if you hold this...' "
Farah and his friends -- all dressed impeccably in dress shirts and ties -- answered questions from eager reporters, one of whom wanted to know if the nonprofit includes any former members of al-Shabab.
"No," Mohamed said with a laugh. "Absolutely not."
After the press conference, Mohamed reflected on that question.
"If we were members of al-Shabab, I don't think we would be here," he said. "I think we'd be in a different room, talking about something else. Quite frankly, it was a stupid question."
A more germane question might be: Is al-Shabab still at work in Minnesota? In the past six years, federal authorities say, at least 23 Minnesota men traveled to the Horn of African to enlist with the terror group affiliated with al-Qaida. Two young men left as recently as last year.
Mohamed Farah, the 29-year-old founder of Ka Joog, said if al-Shabab is still recruiting young men from the Twin Cities, he doesn't see the signs of it.
"I don't believe the situation is as it was in 2008," he said. "However, this shows us that organizations such as al-Shabab are not as weak as we think they are."
Farah said the Nairobi attacks should galvanize the Somali-American community and beyond to work harder to engage young people, especially those who are socially adrift.
"There are a lot of underlying issues," he said. "Nobody becomes radicalized overnight. This is a process. These folks who are involved in these attacks are missing gaps, whether it's job development, a lack of mentorship."
Court testimony in the federal trial last year of Mohamud Said Omar, a Twin Cities man convicted of aiding al-Shabab, revealed that some of the earliest recruits who left for Somalia in 2007 were motivated by a sense of nationalism, believing that they could defend their homeland from Ethiopian troops who had occupied Somalia at the time. The recruits also testified that they were swept up by extremist peers who convinced them they had a religious duty to fight.
FBI officials would not comment on whether recruitment continues in Minnesota. But Kyle Loven, the agency's spokesman in Minneapolis, said authorities continue to work with Somali-Americans to stamp out extremist ideology.
"Quite frankly, the community is appalled by what happened," Loven said. "And they're very much eager to work with law enforcement to bring a resolution to this problem."
One entrepreneur who is trying to challenge the narrative of terrorist recruiters is Mohamed Ahmed. He started a website that develops cartoons aimed at countering the slick recruitment videos put out by al-Shabab. Ahmed said his website, averagemohamed.com, aims to destroy an idea with a new idea.
"This is a story of an average Mohamed questioning extremist ideology," Mohamed said. "My mission simply is to destroy that ideology, piece by piece, beginning with the faith first, because these individuals claim my religion. What I'm saying, what my community has been saying, and what my mosque has been saying, is that this is wrong."