MINNEAPOLIS – The FBI is working to obtain the remains of a suicide bomber in Somalia, to try to determine whether he was one of at least 21 young Somali-American men believed to have left Minneapolis in recent years to join the terrorist group al-Shabab.
If the remains are confirmed to belong to Abdisalan Hussein Ali, it will mark the third time someone from Minnesota has been involved in a suicide attack in Somalia.
"I don't understand," said Nimco Ahmed, a Somali community activist in Minnesota, home to the nation's largest Somali population. "It's really, really painful to actually see one of the kids who has a bright future ahead of them do this. ... It's a loss for our whole society."
Al-Shabab said over the weekend that Abdisalan Taqabalahullaah, whom they identified as a Somali-American, carried out the suicide attack Saturday against an African Union base in Mogadishu. The attack killed 10 people, including the two suicide bombers, a Mogadishu-based security official said.
The militia group posted online a recording purported to be Taqabalahullaah, calling on others to carry out a jihad. Omar Jamal, first secretary of the Somali mission to the United Nations, said friends of Abdisalan Hussein Ali listened to the recording and identified the voice as Ali's.
But other friends told Minnesota Public Radio News the voice is not Ali's, saying his English doesn't match the man's on the recording.
E.K. Wilson, the supervisory special agent who oversees the FBI's investigation in Minneapolis, said the agency is in the process of trying to obtain DNA samples for testing.
Ali, a U.S. citizen known by friends in Minneapolis as "Bullethead," was 19 when he left Minnesota in November 2008. He had graduated from Edison High School in Minneapolis the year before. At the time of his disappearance, his family told reporters he was studying health care at the University of Minnesota.
At the Ali family's apartment building in Minneapolis on Monday, a woman who identified herself as Ali's older sister but declined to give her name said the family knew only what it had seen in the news. They hadn't heard from Abdisalan or anyone else in Somalia, she said.
According to a missing persons report filed in his case, Ali's mother and a cousin told police he left his home on the morning of Nov. 4, 2008, to pray and go to school -- as was his normal routine -- but never returned. Ali's car was left at his house, and his cell phone had been turned off, the report said. Police reported that "for an unknown reason" the family thought Ali might have left Minnesota by plane.
Authorities said Ali and five other young men left Minneapolis in early November 2008. Ali went to Somalia, according to a July 2010 indictment that charges him with five counts, including conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
Over the past three years, Minnesota has been the center of a federal investigation into the recruitment of people from the U.S. to train or fight with al-Shabab in Somalia, which hasn't had a functioning government since 1991.
Shirwa Ahmed, 26, of Minneapolis, became the first known American suicide bomber in Somalia when he 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. On May 30 of this year, Farah Mohamed Beledi, 27, of St. Paul, was one of two suicide bombers who carried out an attack in Mogadishu. Beledi was shot before he could detonate his suicide vest.