FBI agents are investigating whether an American teenager detonated one of two stolen U.N. vehicles packed with explosives at a peacekeepers base in Somalia, killing 21 people last week.
The investigation highlights a disturbing trend of Somali-American youths returning to their ancestral homeland to fight for an Islamic militia that the U.S. government links to al-Qaida.
Community blogger Abdirahman Warsame told The Associated Press that FBI agents in Seattle had visited the home of Mohamed Mohamud on Tuesday to investigate whether 18-year-old Omar, Mohamud's son, was involved in a twin suicide bombing in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, on Sept. 17. He had been at the family's home on Thursday, two days after FBI agents visited.
Insurgents drove two stolen U.N. cars into an African Union peacekeeping base and detonated them. Twenty-one people were killed, including 17 Burundian and Ugandan peacekeepers. Markings on the cars meant they were not subject to the usual security checks.
Insurgents targeting Somali men
Authorities already have been alarmed by the efforts of Somali Islamic insurgents — some of whom have links to al-Qaida — targeting young Somali men in the U.S. and other countries with a series of slickly produced Internet videos extolling the virtues of a jihad, or holy war.
The involvement of Americans raises both the profile of the insurgents' struggle and fears that insurgents could use the men to attack foreign targets.
Three men, two from the Minneapolis area and one from Seattle, have pleaded guilty in federal court in Minneapolis to terror charges this year after as many as 20 Somali-American youths vanished. At least three Minnesota men have died, including one whom authorities say carried out a suicide bombing.
If the Seattle link is confirmed, it would be the second time an American youth has carried out a suicide attack in the war-ravaged Horn of Africa nation.
Father mourning his son
Warsame said Mohamud had been prepared for the visit by the U.S. federal agents following calls from relatives and Internet reports that an American had been involved in the attack.
"Relatives in Somalia told Mohamed that his son was the bomber who detonated one of the cars. He was very disappointed that his son has died in Somalia," said Warsame. "He was in mourning."
The agents took DNA samples from Mohamud, suggested that he turn off his phone line because the number had been published on a Somali Web site, and warned him not to speak to the media, Warsame said. He had been at the family's home on Thursday, two days after FBI agents visited.
Al-Shabab, a local Islamic militia, said the Sept. 17 bombing was in retaliation for a U.S. commando raid on Sept. 14 that killed al-Qaida operative Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in southern Somalia. Experts, however, have said planning such a raid would have taken considerably longer than three days.
Al-Shabab, a powerful Islamist group with foreign fighters in its ranks, claimed responsibility for the last week's attack. This week it released a video pledging allegiance to al-Qaida and showing foreign trainers moving among its fighters.
Concern is radicalization
Somali expert Roland Marchal at the Center for International Studies and Research in Paris said if Mohamud was involved in last week's attack it would strengthen concerns over whether the extremist group might try to target America.
Al-Shabab, which contains many competing factions, has focused its struggle on overthrowing the U.N.-backed Somali government, whose forces currently only hold pockets of the capital with the help of some 5,000 African Union peacekeepers.
"So far (the suicide bombings) have been in Somalia, so people in America aren't so concerned," Marchal said. "The true concern is whether you have people who have been radicalized coming back."
The only known American suicide bomber in Somalia, Shirwa Ahmed from Minneapolis, blew himself up in October 2008 in the northern breakaway republic of Somaliland as part of a series of coordinated explosions that killed 21 people.
Somalia's civil war began when warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991, then turned their clan-based militias on each other. The Islamic movement grew out of community-based courts designed to restore some order to the country's bloody chaos and overcome the tribal rivalries that have torn the country apart for the past 18 years.
Analysts say the insurgency, which originally had mainly nationalistic goals, is increasingly coming under the influence of global jihad ideology as foreign fighters flood into the country.