Not until the Minneapolis men began dying in the fight did the community begin to realize the high stakes.
Later, when it heard the horrors of Al-Shabab’s tactics from the mouths of recruits who defected and returned to face criminal charges for supporting the terror group, there was no doubt.
The recruits told stories of staying in a terrorist safe house and of mastering the workings of assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. One recruit told of being “scared to death” after being shown videos of beheadings.
As more became known, Al-Shabab’s appeal diminished.
Even when the terror group posted online a recruiting tape this summer that featured interviews with three Minnesotans who later died while fighting in Somalia, it seemed to do little to attract new recruits.
Bihi and others say they have seen little evidence that young men have left in the numbers that they once did.
FBI spokesman Kyle Loven declined to comment on whether recruitment in Minnesota has diminished, saying only that the agency’s investigation is “active.”
Victims no more
Just how much the community has grown was evident last week during several public rallies to denounce the attack in Kenya.
More than 50 men, women and children gathered outside Brian Coyle on Friday. Carrying signs reading “No Al-Shabab Is Welcome Here” and “Prosecute All Al-Shabab Recruiters,” they listened as more than a half dozen speakers rallied support for the victims and their families and sought to distance themselves from Al-Shabab’s radical ideology.
Earlier last week, nearly 20 local imams, or prayer leaders, gathered to preach against religious extremism. Never before had they spoken so clearly on the issue and in one voice.
“I don’t think that was possible five years ago,” Adam said.
Also last week, Ka Joog members raised their collective voice at a news conference that garnered worldwide attention. Mohamed Farah, founder of the group, stood before the row of television cameras, flanked by his peers — all dressed in suits and ties.
Several federal and local law enforcement officers looked on approvingly.
“The veil slowly has been lifting to reveal the true agenda and political intent of this extremist group,” Farah boomed from the podium. “We shall no longer be the victims of their terror.”
While the community is no longer afraid to speak out, the threat from Al-Shabab remains strong.
In a blog post last week, Ken Menkhaus, a Somali expert at Davidson College in North Carolina, called Al-Shabab’s attack on the Kenyan mall “an act of desperation by a jihadi group beset by internal power struggles and plummeting support.”
Over the past two years, Menkhaus wrote, Al-Shabab “has lost control of almost all of Somalia’s urban areas” and has suffered from “deep internal divisions.” The split “exploded in armed conflict” earlier this year and resulted in the deaths of several top leaders, including Omar Hammami of Alabama, who was the poster child for Americans fighting for Al-Shabab.