The massive, horrifying shooting in Kenya is taking place on another side of the world, but the Qaida-affiliated group with Western connections that is carrying out the attacks is a distinctly American problem, too.
At least 68 people are dead in al-Shabab’s terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, which began Saturday and continues into Monday. There are still hostages in the mall. And, if al-Shabab is to be believed, three American-born people may have played a part in the attack.
Somalia-based al-Shabab has a history of Western recruitment. The organization itself grew out of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union, a group of sharia courts. Al-Shabab, which means “the youth” in Arabic, split off from the ICU after Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia in 2006. That invasion and the subsequent occupation radicalized the young splinter group and made it a magnet for jihadists, helping the group gain thousands of recruits by 2008. Initially, the group was focused on fighting Ethiopian interests in Somalia.
In February of that year, the State Department designated the group as a foreign terrorist organization, calling it a “violent and brutal extremist group with a number of individuals affiliated with al-Qaida.” By the summer of 2010, the group had expanded its reach, as evidenced by a suicide bombing in Uganda that killed 74 people.
It’s hard to know exactly how many Western fighters are in al-Shabab, says Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. But al-Shabab has had some marginal success at drawing recruits from the Somali diaspora in the United States and the United Kingdom. Like other terrorist organizations, al-Shabab has targeted young, dissatisfied men who have not integrated well into Western life.
In June 2010, two men from New Jersey were arrested at JFK International Airport and accused of trying to join up with al-Shabab in Somalia. Prosecutors in Brooklyn, N.Y., describe another three men facing federal terrorism charges in the city as “dangerous and influential” members of al-Shabab. Those three men were arrested in Africa while traveling to Yemen, and none of them is a United States citizen. One, however, is British.
A congressional report from July 2011 found that al-Shabab had recruited more than 40 American Muslims, and at that point at least 15 had been killed.
One of the group’s most famous members was Omar Hammami, an Alabama man who left for Somalia in 2006. Hammami, who tweeted at @abumamerican, eventually broke with Shabab, while still saying that he believed in “attacking U.S. interests everywhere.” He was reportedly killed by al-Shabab just last week.
The U.S. and U.K. have taken different paths to dealing with al-Shabab and Somalia to this point. After the mission in Somalia in the 1990s, the U.S. has kept Somalia at an “arm’s length,” says Felbab-Brown, resorting more to limited selective strikes than the kind of political development that Britain has strived for.
Up to this point, Western assets have had a limited influence within Shabab, and the plight of Hammami has actually served as a warning to would-be jihadists. In the last few years, al-Shabab has lost some of its influence and Western recruits have attempted to leave the organization, sometimes saying that they didn’t fully understand what they were getting themselves into. The recruits have been “more for the show,” says Felbab-Brown. She even points to recent chatter among Shabab leadership fretting over excessively poor treatment of Western assets, suggesting that their role within the organization needs to be reorganized.
If al-Shabab claims that three of the Kenyan shooters are American-born bear out, we may be seeing what that restructuring could look like.
And the recruits — with their Western citizenship, connections, and on-the-ground knowledge — pose an outsized potential threat to the U.K. and the U.S. “I would be very surprised if al-Shabab had the capacity to pull off in the United States anything on the scale of 9/11, or even in Britain,” says Felbab-Brown. But with relatively easy access through U.S. or U.K. borders, it’s not crazy to imagine that Shabab could be capable of launching an attack on a soft-target by a gunman abroad — like the attack raging in Kenya. And these Shabaab assets are likely out there. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., believes that Shabaab has between 15 and 20 active American members.
This fear isn’t just a security threat in the United States or the United Kingdom. It’s also a palpable privacy threat for Somalis living in the West. The NYPD has already made infiltrating suspect demographic groups (read: Muslim) part of its post-9/11 counterterrorism M.O. The Somali diaspora is concerned it will be unfairly targeted by the U.S. or U.K. government, get excessive attention from the FBI or the U.K. Home Office, or be socially alienated of Western society, according to Felbab-Brown. In short, greater attention to Shabab could mean greater attention to normal, law-abiding Somalis living in the West. And if you want to create a mass of young, poorly integrated Somali men, that’s surely one way to do it.
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Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”