RELIGIOUS RADICALS: How does faith turn ferocious? - KMSP-TV

RELIGIOUS RADICALS: How does faith turn ferocious?

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

As investigators look to the Tsarnaev brothers following the twin bombings in Boston, it might be wise to also take a look at how young men in Minnesota were recruited for terrorism.

Next month, seven men will be sentenced for their role in conspiracy to radicalize young Somali-American men and send them to fight for al-Shabaab in Somalia. One of the things the FBI is still concerned about is that some of those young men may return to the U.S. to commit acts of terrorism. While that hasn't happened, finding out how they became radicalized -- and who is to blame -- is not very easy.

"Radicals must give you a target," Abdi Bihi told FOX 9 News. "The devil is not enough."

Bihi got a crash-course in jihad when his 17-year-old nephew, Burhan Hassan, was recruited to fight for al-Shabaab along with 26 other young men who returned to a country many of them barely knew.

Bihi said his nephew was killed when he became too sick to fight, a young man who died for someone else's cause.

"I don't believe someone wakes up in the morning and goes to the Internet and says, 'Oh, I don't want to go to a movie. I don't want to go to school. Let me radicalize myself and be a killer,'" Bihi said.

Rather, Bihi said he subscribes to the National Geographic theory of radicalization: Recruiters pick on the weak and lonely, just like predators in the wild.

"There is always someone on the ground that will take the hand of this person who thinks the world is not good enough," said Bihi.

Bihi told FOX 9 News he sees a similar narrative with the Tsarnaev brothers, refugees who may have been influenced by Chechen nationalism and Russian atrocities in much the same way that his own community was horrified by Ethiopian invaders. Add religion, a charismatic imam on the Internet, slick recruiting videos, and stir.

"Radical mentors must be involved," Bihi said. "I'm sure, in a few weeks, we find out."

Yet, it's taken years to connect the dots in Minnesota. Omer Abdi Mohamed and six other men will be sentenced for their role in the terror recruiting in May, but in a court filing made just last week, his defense attorney wrote, "Mr. Mohamed is not a radicalized Muslim. He is not a religious zealot."

Bihi told FOX 9 News he believes Mohamed is a middle man at best.

"I think that will lead to the second layer, third layer, and that will lead to the big fish," said Bihi.

So far, Bihi does not believe any of the puppet masters have been caught, but he said the most effective antidote to radicalization is to give young people a sense of belonging. That's why he is organizing social and athletic events for Somali youth, including basketball tournaments, without a penny of public financing.

EDITORS NOTE: An earlier version of this story credited community activist Abdi Bihi with organizing a Minneapolis Fire Department youth program. In fact, the Cedar Riverside Youth Fire Academy is organized by Pillsbury United Communities and the Minneapolis Fire Department.

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