MINNEAPOLIS – Federal authorities said they are trying to confirm the identity of a suicide bomber who carried out a deadly attack in Somalia after a militant group claimed Thursday that the man was a Somali-American from Minnesota.
The group al-Shabab said 25-year-old Abdullahi Ahmed of Minneapolis bombed the African Union base in Mogadishu on Monday, killing two AU troops and a government soldier. Minnesota, home to the largest Somali community in the U.S., has been the center of a federal investigation in recent years into the recruiting and travels of young men who left the U.S. believed to have gone to fight with al-Shabab.
The FBI is aware of the bombing and has agents in East Africa investigating, and the agency is trying to determine the bomber's identity, said Steve Warfield, an FBI spokesman in Minnesota.
"We are trying to find out who that guy is and if there are any ties to Minnesota, but right now we don't know," Warfield said.
He said that process could take time, and authorities may never get definitive answers. Not only do agents need to get into the war-torn country, which has been unstable for decades, they have to find something that could be tested for authenticity, he said.
More than 20 young men have left Minnesota in waves since 2007 to allegedly join al-Shabab, which the U.S. says has ties to al-Qaida.
A total of 19 people have been charged in Minnesota in connection with the travelers and alleged terror financing. Others have been charged in San Diego and St. Louis with funneling money to the terror group.
In a Thursday report on the Somali Memo website, a media outlet that a terror expert says has an intimate relationship with al-Shabab, a man claiming to be Abdullahi Ahmed spoke with an interviewer about the impending Mogadishu attack. A translator who listened to the audio recording for The Associated Press said the man claiming to be Ahmed said he left Minnesota two years ago to join the jihad, and that he was happy about his upcoming mission.
The man said the suicide bombing had been planned in advance. He also spoke briefly in English, delivering a message to his "brothers and sisters" in the West: "Wherever you are, brothers, come," he said. "Come to jihad."
Authorities have not confirmed the authenticity of the audio recording or the identity of the person on it.
Evan Kohlmann, a terror consultant and senior investigator with the Nine Eleven Finding Answers Foundation, of NEFA, said he believes the interview is legitimate because of Somali Memo's record. He said the media group has a good record of reporting on events involving al-Shabab and has sources within terror group. Kohlmann said the message in the interview is consistent with other suicide wills, which are closely managed by al-Shabab. The group is known for using Americans to recruit others to their cause.
If authorities are able to confirm Abdullahi Ahmed's death, he would become at least the third Somali-American to have carried out a suicide bombing in Somalia.
The first known American suicide bomber in Somalia was Shirwa Ahmed of Minneapolis. 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. In September 2009, insurgents — including an 18-year-old from Seattle — drove two stolen United Nations cars into an African Union base and detonated them, killing 21 people.
Some members of the Somali community in Minneapolis said they fear people are still leaving the U.S. and Europe to join al-Shabab.
"They lure people through that propaganda machine," Omar Jamal, a local advocate, said of the terror group.
In addition to Shirwa Ahmed, two other young men from Minnesota have been confirmed dead by relatives. The family of Burhan Hassan, 20, said they learned in June 2009 that he was killed in Mogadishu and buried there. The family of 20-year-old Jamal Sheikh Bana learned of his death that same year after finding a picture of his body online.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a socialist dictator and then turned on each other, causing chaos in the African nation of 7 million people.
Associated Press writer Abdi Guled contributed to this report from Mogadishu, Somalia.