On June 3, the Star Tribune covered the issue of “foreign fighters” (“FBI fears Somalis may fight in Syria”). The article was entirely about Somali-American fighters who allegedly traveled to fight abroad in foreign wars, not about any other Americans who travel elsewhere to fight.
The newspaper reported that “the FBI is investigating information that members of the Somali community from the Twin Cities are fighting in the Syrian civil war.” The article explained that “two FBI agents met with a group of Somali-American leaders and members of the community at the Brian Coyle Community Center.”
The local FBI stated that it was “‘reviewing information … to identify persons who may have traveled, and persons who may have intention to travel” to Syria, said Kyle Loven, chief division counsel for the Minneapolis office of the FBI.
It is interesting to note that not only are those who actually traveled to Syria being investigated, but even those only thinking about doing so. When the FBI agent was asked how many people the FBI thinks might have traveled to Syria from Minneapolis, Loven said “some — some who we believe have traveled, and some who may have considered it.”
How would the bureau know who had “considered it” unless by using informants and spying on the community? The FBI further asked the Somali community for help in identifying potential suspects.
“This is similar to a situation which came to our intention in the fall of 2007 when young Somali men from Minneapolis disappeared, only to turn up in Somalia, fighting on behalf of Al-Shabab,” Loven said.
Back in 2007, the Minneapolis division of the FBI was alarmed when a few Somali youths went back to Somalia and allegedly joined Al-Shabab, classified as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) by the U.S. State Department. At that time, the FBI started an investigation, and there were trials, the storming of homes, and interrogations of Somali families without any legal representation. Headlines and FBI warnings and alarms went through the community.
The FBI reached out to our television show, “Belahdan,” to explain its position and what it was doing. In fact, the head of the office came on our show several times and was very amiable and forthcoming.
Turn now to the recent Israeli onslaught on Gaza, and Americans citizens fighting in that conflict. It has been reported that an estimated 2,000 Americans have traveled to Israel to fight with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and two of them lost their lives — a 24-year-old from Southern California and a 21-year-old from Texas. Their families said they both had a passion for Israel. How ironic.
On the legal front, the Star Tribune reported in June that FBI officer Loven “underscored that U.S. federal law prohibits American citizens from traveling to foreign countries to fight in foreign wars, whether they join FTOs, or military organizations not so designated.”
I called the FBI district office here in Minnesota, and I asked Loven, chief division counsel, about the Americans traveling to fight abroad, and whether there is any investigation into those who went to Israel to fight with the IDF, as there is in the case of those who went to Syria or Somalia. Unlike his predecessor in 2007, Loven didn’t have any answers or any explanation. He declined my invitation to be a guest on my show to explain the FBI position, citing the legal reason that “the Somali case is under investigation.”
There is still no evidence of an investigation of any kind concerning Americans who went to Israel.
If I may, let me dub those fighting in Israel as “Jewish jihadists,” who strongly believe in the Jewish state and have a great passion for Israel. These are people like the ones in the recent Gaza conflict whose loyalty is so strong to the Jewish state that they have left the comfort of American life to fight Arabs in the Middle East, much like the Crusaders of old.
“The bottom line is, I’m part of the Jewish people,” one of them, David Joel, told NBC News. He grew up outside Atlanta and years ago was inspired to travel to Israel and join the IDF.
“We decided that instead of going away we were going to donate something to the country,” he said. “We were Jewish, and we believe in the Jewish country. At the end of the day, it’s our nation.”
These are also people like Sean Carmeli from Texas, “a hero of the Jewish people,” as Rabbi Asher Hecht, a family friend, said to reporters. “He gave his life to protect the survival of the Jewish people.”
Questions loom large. Shouldn’t it be a concern for the State Department that American fighters with loyalty to Israel waged a jihad against Palestinians in the recent assault on Gaza, in which 80 percent of those killed were civilians?
When and if those fighters return, fully charged and indoctrinated, and live among us, shouldn’t this raise concern for thousands of Arab- and Muslim-Americans who are spied on and monitored systematically? Shouldn’t we demand an investigation from the U.S. State Department and the FBI?
What should we think?
Ahmed Tharwat is a public speaker and hosts the Arab-American show “Belahdan” at 10:30 p.m. Mondays on Twin Cities Public Television. He blogs at www.ahmediatv.com.