No one with a grip on reality would describe Somalia as “the real Disneyland.” But thanks to YouTube, the terror organization Al-Shabab is selling that glossy image to prospective recruits.
It might seem implausible that there would be takers. The Twin Cities area is home to the largest Somali population in the United States, and elders can recount vivid horror stories from the war-torn homeland they left behind.
This country, and especially Minnesota, offers a chance for a new life for Somali immigrants, and most have taken full advantage of the opportunities and have become productive members of the community. But not all.
For years, authorities have been on alert for Al-Shabab in Minnesota. Despite their investigative work and efforts at community outreach, authorities estimate that at least 20 young men have left the state to join Al-Shabab, the Somali Islamist group that has claimed responsibility for the recent mall attack in Kenya.
Al-Shabab’s recruiting tactics — featured most recently in the “Disneyland” YouTube video that promises a “path to paradise” for Minnesota martyrs — are especially effective with disaffected youths. The Internet allows terror organizations to reach large numbers of potential recruits with less risk than person-to-person outreach.
As the Star Tribune reported Thursday, members of Minnesota’s Somali and Kenyan communities have denounced Al-Shabab and the mall attack. Representatives of Ka Joog, a group of local Somali artists, told reporters that the group is working to counteract Al-Shabab recruiting with its own Facebook and Twitter messaging.
“Al-Shabab as a terrorist organization, they’re very good at what they do,” said Abdul Mohamed, the group’s marketing and public-relations director. “They tell these children that there’s a … better life. They use religious justification to back their efforts.”
Thwarting Al-Shabab and its recruiters will continue to be a challenge for law enforcement, Somali leaders and parents. Meanwhile, the broader Twin Cities community will be best served by reaching out to Somali youths and doing everything necessary to provide them with the quality of education, job opportunities and social activities that build the foundation for successful lives.