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After Crawling Onto U.S. Radar, Somalia Extremists Pose Threat – But Will They Go Global?

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Posted on August 20 2010 10:15 pm
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by Mike Levine

One of the nation’s top intelligence officials was stunned by what he heard in that secret, underground facility.

Jack Tomarchio, the Department of Homeland Security’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at the time, had flown from Washington to Ohio earlier that spring day for a briefing on the Buckeye State’s latest efforts against terrorism. Now, as heavy winds battered the streets above, two Ohio Homeland Security officials told him how the capitals of Ohio and Minnesota had become havens for refugees of war-torn Somalia.

“Get out of town!” Tomarchio remembers saying in surprise. “Why did they go to Minnesota? It’s freezing up there. Why don’t they go to Arizona, where it’s desert-like?”

Then the two briefers told Tomarchio they were becoming increasingly concerned about “radical mosques” in Columbus, Ohio, where imams “considered to be a little fiery” would come from Somalia and preach anti-Western messages to the growing Somali community, Tomarchio recalls about that day in 2006.

It marked one of the first times a U.S. counterterrorism official was warned that Islamic extremists in Somalia could pose a threat to the U.S. homeland — not just a threat to the Horn of Africa or U.S. interests there.

In the years since, such extremists have become more powerful, more global and more deadly than U.S. officials ever imagined. One group in particular, Al Shabab, has recruited dozens of Americans from Minneapolis and elsewhere. They’ve produced the first known American suicide bomber, pledged their allegiance to Usama bin Laden, and last month launched their first attack outside Somalia with coordinated bombings in nearby Uganda.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called it “a new phase for Al Shabab,” promising that the U.S. government is “constantly looking” to prepare for and prevent “any type of terrorist attack that should occur on our own soil.”

In retrospect, federal officials now say, the U.S. government may have been slow to recognize Al Shabab’s full potential. A senior intelligence official acknowledged that Al Shabab “exceeded our expectations,” and Pat Rowan, a former top-ranking official with the Justice Department’s counterterrorism division, said concern sparked by the recruitment in Minneapolis was “pretty late in the whole process.” Similarly, a former FBI intelligence official said he and others “didn’t think enough about the impact” of a key point in Al Shabab’s rise.

So the big question now: Will Al Shabab launch an attack inside the United States?

Some current and former officials say they’re skeptical, believing if it happens it won’t be anytime soon. While acknowledging that the chances of such an attack have “probably” increased over the past two years, the senior intelligence official said Al Shabab still has limited reach and limited intentions.

Read More at Fox News

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