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New Charges In Somali Terror Case

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And now a new development in the story we've been following. It's about the disappearance of more than two dozen young Somali-Americans from Minneapolis. We first reported on them back in January. The FBI says the young men were recruited in the U.S. and then traveled to Somalia. There they began fighting alongside a terrorist group called al-Shabab.

The FBI has been investigating for almost a year and, today, revealed new details about that investigation. And NPR's Dina Temple-Raston joins us now with the latest. Dina, so, have authorities solved this? Have they found the people who are behind the disappearance of these young men?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they certainly have found some of them. They announced eight more suspects today. But the FBI went to great lengths to say that the investigation is continuing. They now have 14 people either arrested or charged as part of this case. And in a terrorism case in this country, 14 people is a lot.

The FBI said that seven of the suspects are thought to be outside the U.S. One is being held in The Netherlands and is waiting for extradition. He was arrested in The Netherlands last week. And now these are all Somalis with ties to Minneapolis, who've been accused of trying to recruit these Americans to go fight with this group, al-Shabab. Al-Shabab is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations and has some ties to al-Qaida, which is why people are worried about it.

NORRIS: So, those are the suspects in this case. What other details about the investigation did the FBI reveal today?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, this is the first time the FBI has really revealed the breadth of the case. The young men started disappearing about two years ago in 2007. And the FBI says the first group left in December 2007 and apparently the last group left just last month in October 2009. And the terrorism charges that they announced today run the gamut from conspiring to provide financial assistance, to sending recruits to terrorists, to firing AK-47s, which presumably means that they have some people who were inside the al-Shabab training camps doing that.

An official told NPR that they think the suspects are just loosely linked to al-Shabab. Al-Shabab didn't send them here. They just decided on their own to radicalize and recruit and send young men from the U.S. to Somalia to fight with the group. And just some new details include that the FBI said that the suspects met in a Minneapolis mosque and telephoned people in Somalia to offer up Minneapolis Somalis for the fight. That's a new little detail in all of this.

NORRIS: You say the investigation is ongoing. What else are they looking for?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they're being very cagey right now. They wouldn't say. But they are a couple of dozen young Minnesotans who went to Somalia to fight with al-Shabab and presumably they'd be arrested if they came back. Sources told us that there may be more fundraisers and recruiters out there, who will be arrested in the coming weeks as well.

And then the really big worry here is that this recruiting effort has been so successful, I mean, two dozen young men, that it amounts to America's first Jihadi pipeline, a type of underground railroad to a battlefield. And the agent said just even that possibility is what makes this one of the biggest domestic terrorism investigations since 9/11.

NORRIS: Dina, you've headed to the twin cities in the course of reporting on this story. How has the community there been handling the news of this investigation?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, that what's really interesting. Now, this latest news only just came out, you know, not long ago. But cases like this that I've covered, generally the communities are feeling that Muslims in the community have been scapegoated. In this community, they don't feel that way. When they talk about these arrests, they seem to be expressing relief. They're really scared about these recruiters taking their kids and sending them to Somalia.

NORRIS: Dina, thank you very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.