The threat from East Africa

Posted on July 26, 2010

The recent terrorist attacks in Kampala, Uganda, and the court hearing Monday of an American charged with trying to join the jihad in Somalia, are worrisome signs that a new transnational terrorist network is taking shape in East Africa -- one that may have its sights set on the United States. That's the bad news. The worse news is that President Obama ordered the killing of the man who could have helped us to disrupt and destroy this network.

Responsibility for the blasts in Kampala has been claimed by al-Shabab. The State Department designated the group in March 2008 as a foreign terrorist organization, noting that al-Shabab included "individuals affiliated with al-Qa'ida" and citing its efforts to "undermine the Somali government" and "destabilize the Horn of Africa region." But the truth about al-Shabab is far more sinister. In the summer of 2008, the group merged with al-Qaeda. Last year, al-Shabab released a video showing its fighters chanting "Here we are O' Osama. We are your soldiers O' Osama," while the group's leader, Abu Zubair, promised bin Laden that "Allah willing, the brigades for Global Jihad will be launched from [Somalia] to deprive the disbelievers of sleep and destroy their interests around the world."

With the Uganda bombings, the group seems to have made good on this promise, carrying out its first large-scale attack outside Somalia. Where else have they set their sights? One clue: al-Shabab is actively recruiting Americans. On Monday, a 20-year-old Northern Virginia man, Zachary Adam Chesser, will appear in federal court on charges of attempting to travel to Somalia to join al-Shabab as a foreign fighter. Before his planned departure, Chesser had been in direct communication with Anwar al-Aulaqi, the cleric in Yemen who reportedly helped to guide the men behind the attempted Christmas Day bombing over Detroit and who also had been in contact with the Fort Hood shooter.

Chesser is not the first American to try to join al-Shabab. In June, two New Jersey men were similarly arrested at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport for allegedly planning to fight with the terrorist group. And about 20 young Somali Americans have reportedly left Minnesota over the past few years to join the group. Not only is the group recruiting American fighters, one of the group's leaders is an American citizen; Omar Hammami, who grew up in Alabama, has justified the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and affirmed his group's allegiance to bin Laden.

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