Al-Shabab recruiting video shows a fake Minnesota airline boarding pass

Al-Shabab recruiting video
This image taken from a video posted on YouTube shows a mock-up boarding pass for a flight between Mogadishu, Somalia and Minnesota. Experts say the video is a recruiting tool for al-Shabab.
YouTube screen capture

Extremist group al-Shabab released a video in English this week that calls for supporters to carry out a "lone-wolf mission" of terrorism or travel to Somalia to join the group. The video closes with a mock-up of an airplane boarding pass showing Minnesota as the point of origin and the slogan, "Next flight to Mogadishu the only one missing is you."

Law enforcement officials say they're aware of the video and continuing operations to ensure that no more young men in the state are recruited by the group, which has lost much of its strength and is widely opposed across the Somali diaspora, including in Minnesota.

  MPR News special report: Minnesota's pipeline to al-Shabab

The video was posted briefly on YouTube on Tuesday before being taken down. It was then re-posted from another account. It features a man with a covered face delivering a message to "youth in the West" in rhyming English.

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The video urges viewers to attack like "the brothers in Westgate Mall," a reference to the attack on the Kenyan mall last year that killed more than 70 people.

The man featured in the video also castigates those who live in the West: "Deceived by the devil, you live among them, same job, same school. You befriend them. Judgment day is near."

More than two dozen young men from Minnesota traveled to Somalia to join al-Shabab between 2007 and 2009. Many of those young men have died or are in jail, although some are still believed to be at large in Somalia.

Minneapolis FBI spokesperson Kyle Loven said this video is one of a series released by al-Shabab to recruit young men to the terrorist group.

"Unfortunately, it appeals to some disaffected within society -- persons who are perhaps isolated, who don't feel they are part of society," Loven said. "The best we can do in law enforcement is be aware of those [videos], and to be aware that our adversaries are continuing in their efforts to engage young people."

Ken Menkhaus, a political science professor and expert on Somalia at Davidson College in North Carolina, said al-Shabab itself has seen some setbacks in recent years. The group lost territory after an African Union force made a strong military push last year. An internal purge by hardliners in the organization also left many of the top leaders and foreign fighters in the group dead.

"Even though it's weaker, it's in some ways more dangerous," Menkhaus said. "[Shabab] has launched a series of terrorist attacks in both Kenya and in Somalia that have been pretty devastating and seem to be designed to consolidate control on the part of the hardliners and prevent any kind of progress in Somalia."

The group's continued use of terrorist attacks that brutally target civilians has led to an erosion of support in Somalia and in Somali diaspora countries like the United States, Canada and Sweden. Menkhaus said recruitment of Somalis from the diaspora slowed to a trickle in recent years.

While the group has always been relatively savvy with their online presence, Menkhaus said earlier efforts to inspire "lone-wolf" attacks have always failed. But making a video, especially one that mentions Minnesota, is also just a way to get noticed.

"It costs very little and it causes a lot of heartburn for western governments who then have to worry yet again that they're trying to recruit," Menkhaus said. "Somalis in the diaspora and at home now fully understand what Shabab stands for."

People of Somali descent in Minnesota have strongly opposed al-Shabab since the young men's disappearance was made public. About two dozen young people started a group called Ka Joog in 2007 to deal with al-Shabab's recruitment of young men as well as more domestic issues like gang violence, said Ka Joog Executive Director Mohamed Farah.

"The word Ka Joog means to stay away," Farah said. "The message behind that is trying to get young people away from all negative influences and point them in the right direction, which is education." Farah said Somali-Americans in Minnesota have worked hard in recent years to expose the "cancerous ideology" of al-Shabab, which he said doesn't at all represent the views of the vast majority of Somalis.

"Every time we talk about al-Shabab, it really tarnishes the image of Somalis," Farah said. "That's not really the main issue that's going on in the community today."