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In addition, local Somali men who went to fight around 2007 and 2008 were fighting to drive out Ethiopian occupiers. When the Ethiopians left in January 2009, Fletcher said, Al-Shabab morphed into a more hard-line Islamist organization and many who believed in the nationalist cause left.
A large number of the Somali community in Minnesota started turning against Al-Shabab after a December 2009 bombing that targeted members of Somalia’s fledgling parliament.
Fletcher said anyone recruited now is likely to be more extreme in their religious views and Al-Shabab is attracting fewer potential fighters.
Despite what he said are signs of Al-Shabab being weakened, Fletcher said, poverty and isolation are still factors that could contribute to local Somalis being recruited.
“If they don’t succeed in America, there are three options: they can drop out of school and become a blight on the community, or they can join gangs, or they find respite in extremism,” Fletcher said. “We want the fourth alternative and that is where they succeed in the American opportunity.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434