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August 29, 2014

ISIS Succeeds Al Shaabab as Foremost Recruiter of American Militants

Confirmation by U.S. officials that two American men with links to Minnesota were killed this past weekend in Syria while fighting for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) serves as the latest indication that ISIS has replaced Al Shabaab in Somalia as the terrorist destination of choice for American militants. 

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Abdirahmaan Muhumed

As the number of Americans joining Al Shabaab, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, has steadily decreased over the past few years (more than 60 U.S. cit­i­zens and per­ma­nent res­i­dentshave traveled to or attempted to aid or joinAl Shabaab since 2007, Americans traveling to or attempted to travel to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS or fight with other terrorist organizations in the region has increased.

Over 100 Americans are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the fighting overall. In 2013 and 2014, 13 Americans have been arrested for travelling or attempting to travel to the region to join ISIS, Jabhat al Nusra (Al Qaeda in Syria) or other terrorist groups.

Six others have reportedly been killed, including Abdirahmaan Muhumed, the 29-year-old Somali-American from Minnesota killed this past weekend with Douglas McAuthur McCain from San Diego/Minnesota, Moner Abu Salha from Florida, Nicole Mansfield from Michigan, Amir Farouk Ibrahim of Pennsylvania, and a man using the pseudonym Abu Dujana Al-Amriki, whose background is unclear.

Abdirahmaan Muhumed was apparently one of 15 Somali Americans from Minnesota under investigation by the FBI for travelling to Syria. ISIS has reportedly sent representatives to recruit from the Twin Cities, alarming community leaders.

Muhumed and McCain reportedly interacted on social media before their deaths; McCain allegedly wrote on Muhamed’s Facebook wall, telling him to “continue protecting our brothers and sisters.” McCain was also friends with at least one other individual who apparently traveled abroad to joina terrorist organization.

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Troy Kastigar

McCain’s apparent high school friend, Troy Kastigar, became a member of Al Shabaab and was featured in an English-language propaganda video called “The Path to Paradise,” in which he encouraged Americans to join the terror group. “This is the best place to be,” said Kastigar in the video, “This is the real Disneyland and you should come here and join us, take pleasure in this fun…. Come here and join us so that we can die for the sake of Allah.”

Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, who was indicted on terrorism charges in 2008 for joining Al Shabaab, was also an apparent friend of McCain’s. Hassan’s statements on Twitter after McCain’s death included, “The Hardest thing in Jihad is when a brother u (sic) love is granted Shahadah [martyrdom]. Today im (sic) experiencing those feelings. May Allah accept @iamthetooth [McCain].”

Hassan, who is believed to still be a member of Al Shabaab in Somalia, has encouraged other extremists to consider joining ISIS. In one response on Ask.FM, he wrote, “Fighting Jihad in other Jihadi fronts is good. I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but I recommend Sham [Syria] because our prophet pbuh [peace be upon him] recommended sham so i’ll (sic) go with that.”

Al Shabaab itself appears to have taken a similar strategy of encouraging travel to any terror front. In the sixth installment of its English-language video series Mujahideen Moments, released August 27, an apparent Al Shabaab militant called on “Muslims, those that are living the U.S., especially in Minnesota, and Great Britain, Germany, and many parts of the kuffar [apostate] world” to travel abroad to join the fight in terrorist conflict zones including Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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July 31, 2013

Pittsburgh Man Drawn To Syrian Front Underscores Emerging Trend

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Amiir Farouk Ibrahim’s passport

An Egyptian-American man born in Pittsburgh is reportedly the latest American to join the conflict in Syria on the side of rebels fight­ing against the Assad regime.

Amiir Farouk Ibrahim may also be the latest American casualty.

Ibrahim’s American and Egyptian passports were discovered earlier this month after Kurdish fighters overran a compound once held by the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization composed of several Sunni insurgency groups affiliated with Al Qaeda.

If dead, Ibrahim would be the second American known to have been killed in Syria’s civil war. Nicole Mans­field, a con­vert to Islam from Michi­gan, was killed in Syria in May 2013.

Ibrahim’s family reportedly indicated that he traveled to Turkey before crossing into Syria earlier this year. He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Florida International University in 2008.

Ibrahim’s Facebook page contained numerous posts suggesting that he subscribed to a radical interpretation of Islam consistent with Al Qaeda’s ideology. For example:

  • February 1: Ibrahim posted an image calling for a boycott of French products because of the French military campaign against Al Qaeda in Mali.
  • January 30: Ibrahim posted several photos of a house on an island with the caption, “So you can imagine how paradise would look like.” He posted a comment on one of the photos asking God to make him “one of the people of Paradise.”
  • January 30: Ibrahim posted a photo for Mohammed Bouyeri, the Dutch–Moroccan convicted of killing Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. The comment on the post reads in part, “The lion Mohammed Bouyeri (May God release him from his prison) did an operation that will be recorded with gold in the history of Islam.”
  • December 2, 2012:  Ibrahim posted a YouTube video that features the popular jihadi song “Madin Kas-Sayf” [Sharp like the Sword].
  • October 18, 2012: Ibrahim posted a comment calling upon Muslims to embrace Jihad and support the Sunni Muslims in Syria against the Shia’a.

As ADL reported in June, there have been three other pub­licly dis­closed cases of Amer­i­cans involved in fight­ing with rebels. Each has been linked to Jab­hat al-Nusrah (JN), a State Department-designated alias for Al Qaeda in Iraq. It is unknown how many Amer­i­cans have entered the con­flict on the side of rebel fac­tions unaf­fil­i­ated with Al Qaeda.

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June 20, 2013

Syrian Front Attracts American And Foreign Fighters

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Eric Harroun

Update – October 15: Arrest of Orange County man and fate of Pittsburgh man drawn to Syrian front underscores emerging trend.

Increasing numbers of foreign fighters, including Americans, have been attracted to the conflict in Syria and are attempting to join the rebels fighting against the Assad regime.

According to some observers, there are somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 foreign fighters already in Syria, comprising about 10% of the rebel forces. Estimates of fighters arriving from Europe vary widely, from fewer than 200 to over 600. Various rebel groups have claimed “martyrs” from Britain, Denmark, France and Ireland.

To date, there have been three publicly disclosed cases of Americans involved in fighting with rebels. Each has been linked to Jabhat al-Nusrah (JN), a State Department-designated alias for Al Qaeda in Iraq (it is unknown how many Americans have entered the conflict on the side of rebel factions unaffiliated with Al Qaeda).

  • Eric Harroun, a former American soldier, was arrested in March 2013 for allegedly conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction while fighting with Jabhat Al-Nusrah in Syria. While Harroun was not necessarily recruited, after arriving in Syria he appeared in a propaganda video put out by Jabhat Al-Nusrah. On June 20, Harroun was indicted on charges of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and conspiracy to use a destructive device overseas. Eric Harroun pleaded guilty to non-terror-related charges in September, 2013, and was sentenced to time served. That Harroun fought in Syria is uncontested; however, reports differ as to whether he fought with Jabhat al Nusra.
  • Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, who was arrested in Chicago in April 2013, allegedly researched ways to join Jabhat al-Nusrah on the internet. He allegedly found a website advertising itself as providing information to those interested in joining “your lion brothers of Jabhat Al-Nusrah who are fighting under the true banner of Islam.” The website, however, was created by the FBI to attract potential extremists.
  • Nicole Mansfield, a convert to Islam from Michigan, was killed in Syria in May 2013. According to Syrian state-controlled media, she was killed in a car along with two others, including a Briton, while fighting with the rebels. Syrian media claimed that JN’s flag was found in the car.  It should be noted that the Syrian regime considers all rebel fighters and their allies to be terrorists. Mansfield’s family did not know she was in Syria, but say that she had been interested in the Arab Spring.

Syrian rebel groups, including JN, have created social media space and various propaganda to raise awareness, support and potential recruits for their cause in the English-speaking world. These include the exploitation of Facebook, blogs, Twitter and other platforms.

In the past, Americans have proven willing to join militant groups abroad. For example, since 2007, at least 52 American citizens and permanent residents have been arrested or charged in connection with making trips abroad in attempts to reach terrorist groups, receive training, or to participate in terrorist attacks. Many of these individuals joined Al Shabaab, but other individuals traveled abroad to receive training in Pakistan or to join Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The conflict in Syria has attracted foreign support not just for the rebel cause, but for the Assad regime as well. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is reportedly assisting the regime, and Hezbollah fighters have joined with the Syrian army in combating the rebels.

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