New al-Shabab video urges black Americans to migrate, fight

A new Minnesota-centered recruiting video from al-Shabab calls for African-Americans to convert to Islam, move to a Muslim country and flee "racial profiling and police brutality" in the United States.

Hoping to capitalize on recent high-profile police killings of African-American men, the terror group's 51-minute video urges American blacks to seek better lives abroad. It also refers to anti-Islam sentiment in the West and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's recent call for the ban on Muslims immigrating to the U.S.

Most of the video centers on eight al-Shabab fighters from Minnesota, who all died between 2009 and 2011. Some of the footage is a repeat of an earlier al-Shabab video that focused on the lives of three Minnesotans.

The video comes at a critical time for al-Shabab, which is fighting the Somali government and the African Union forces while also targeting fighters who defected from the group and have pledged support for ISIS.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

Twin Cities Somali leaders condemned it as a desperate attempt to recruit fighters. The video is pure propaganda that especially hurts those Somali families whose loved ones left the Twin Cities to join al-Shabab years ago, said Imam Abdisalam Adam, chair of the Islamic Civic Society of America in Minneapolis.

"I see it as an act of desperation, to get attention," Adam said of the new video. "Al-Shabab is losing ground and I think we shouldn't exaggerate their position."

In the new video, Mahad Ali Dhore from Canada, who carried out a suicide operation at a courthouse in Mogadishu in 2013, called on Muslims in the West to follow the example of the Twin Cities men who joined al-Shabab.

"The brothers from Minnesota have set an example for all the Muslims in the West," Dhore tells his audience. "They have left everything behind and they made hijrah (migration) for the sake of Allah."

Al-Shabab glorifies the role of Zakaria Maruf, who rose in the ranks of the group and became a commander of recruits from the diaspora. According to the video, Maruf was killed while trying to retrieve the body of 20-year-old Jamal Bana, another Minnesotan who was killed in 2009.

Maruf also was shown along with Troy Kastigar, a Muslim convert who left Minnesota in 2008. He was killed less than a year later.

"We grew up together and we used to play basketball together," said Maruf, standing next to Kastigar. "We're out here, I used to be his point guard but now I'm his body guard! We're having fun and everybody back home thinks that we're living a bad life and having bad dreams."

The new video has rekindled the agony for the Minnesota families, Adam said. "To see their sons presented in a video so graphically, and description of the way they died, there is so much sadness in the family," he added.

As al-Shabab works to lure foreign recruits, some of its own fighters from the West are running away from the group. In December, a fighter from Minnesota and one from Maryland defected from al-Shabab and surrendered to Somali government forces, according to the U.S. State Department.

The Minnesota fighter, Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, better known as Mujahid Miski, left the state when he was 17. He turned a fierce critic of al-Shabab after falling out with the terror group. Hassan was part of a faction that recently shifted support from al-Shabab to ISIS.

"They are losing lots of support from the public or some of the areas that they occupy because they haven't shown governance," Adam said of al-Shabab. "It's more violence and destruction."

MPR News reporter Doualy Xaykaothao contributed to this report.