Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Jihadist recruiter may have interacted with Garland, Texas attackers

One of the gunmen in the attack on a Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas on May 4th had interacted online with a jihadist recruiter well known to US authorities.

Elton Simpson, who was killed while attempting to attack the event, had a series of social media exchanges with Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, an American-born jihadist and "mysterious ISIS recruiter" who has been living in Somalia since 2007.

Hassan, who goes by the nickname "Miski," was part of an initial wave of Minnesota-based youth who traveled to the Horn of Africa to fight alongside Al Shabaab, a jihadist group that initially formed to oppose the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006. Hassan left for Somalia in 2008 at the age of 17, joining an organization that rapidly morphed into one of the world's most successful recruiters of foreign jihadists.

At the time Hassan arrived, Shabaab largely consisted of fighters that had been members of the Islamic Courts Union, a fundamentalist Islamic political movement that the Ethiopian invasion had removed from power. In Somalia's stateless vacuum, Shabaab was able to create an extensive safe haven for foreign fighters and to develop one of Africa's most dangerous terrorist groups. The group's foreign connections allowed Shabaab to claim a notable jihadist milestone: the first American jihadist suicide bomber in history carried out his attack on Shabaab's behalf, in 2011.

FBI photo of Hassan

Shabaab officially pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda in 2012, and though the group had seen its territory reduced and much of its major leadership killed, it retains startling operational capabilities. On April 2nd, Shabaab killed 147 college students during an attack on a university in eastern Kenya.

Hassan had attracted the attention of American authorities from the outset of Shabaab's reign of terror and was charged with conspiracy to support terrorism in 2009.

According to short profiles from Minnesota Public Radio and the New York Times, Hassan was devoutly religious, and left for Somalia at the age of 17, when he was only one year away from graduating high school. He was determined to join the fight in Somalia, but only made it there on his second try: Hassan and an accomplice had previously attempted to purchase tickets to Africa but a mosque volunteer had caught wind of their plans and stopped them from leaving.

Hassan was part of a much larger group of Shabaab recruits and was charged under an indictment of 13 other American jihadists. In his book, Networks and Network Analysis for Defense and Security, Anthony J. Masys writes that Hassan was a peripheral member of a network of nearly two dozen Shabaab-related individuals from the Minneapolis, Minnesota area.

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