The U.S. Justice Department has charged 14 people in the U.S. with funneling money and supplies to the terrorist group al-Shabaab based in Somalia. Authorities characterize it as a "deadly pipeline," but the amounts of money the men and women have been accused of sending to Somalia are relatively small.
MPR's Morning Edition spoke with John Radsan, director of the National Security Forum at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, about the case. Radsan is a former attorney for the CIA.
Phil Picardi: This has been called the most important terrorism investigation since 9/11 -- is it really?
John Radsan: I can't think of anything larger. The only thing that comes to mind is a plot on the New York subways that we hear, according to the former CIA director, that was called off by the No. 2 in al-Qaeda, so I would say this is the biggest investigation since 9/11.
Picardi: What makes this group so dangerous in the eyes of the U.S. government?
Radsan: The danger stems from al-Shabaab's link to al-Qaeda. We know that al-Qaeda has had operations with al-Shabaab. We fear that some of the training going on in Somalia might be sponsored by al-Qaeda. And the nightmare scenario is that some of these men that had been recruited to go fight in that civil war could easily be turned around to do bad things here in the Twin Cities or elsewhere in the United States.
Picardi: The Justice Department said last week it has no evidence that al-Shabaab is threatening the United States. Why has the U.S. government made this such a high priority?
Radsan: Al-Shabaab may not be threatening the United States, but we know al-Shabaab was behind the recent bombings during the World Cup. Al-Shabaab is on the designated list of terrorism groups. I agree that al-Shabaab is not in the same league as al-Qaeda or some other terrorist groups, but it's a concern to have any group on this terrorism list. And the people that are supporting or giving money to this group should be on warning that the United States takes this group seriously.
Picardi: One of the women from Rochester charged with providing "material support" to terrorists allegedly raised $8,600 for al-Shabaab. How much "material support" does that much money really buy?
Radsan: It's enough to buy you charges in a criminal indictment. It's not a large amount of money. We might interpret this to mean that the FBI has a handle on this investigation, that they're nipping this in the bud. But any amount of money that goes to a terrorist group is going to be of concern to the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office and to the other authorities in the American government.
Picardi: There's a large population of Somalis living in the U.S. What kind of impact will the investigation have on Somalis living in the United States?
Radsan: This investigation has been troublesome for the Somali community. It's been going on for a long time. I recognize that most of the Somalis have come here to escape problems in their home country, they're law abiding. But we have been concerned by the number of people that have been recruited in our area, the number of cities involved -- we had three states in this last indictment -- and the link between the Twin Cities and foreign trading and foreign fighting. This changes our view of counterterrorism. For a long time we liked to believe that we didn't have the problems of domestic radicalization that existed in Europe and other places. But this investigation notes that we do have a problem that exists in other places of radicalized parts of our community.
(Interview transcribed by MPR reporter Elizabeth Dunbar.)