Saturday, December 7, 2013
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A soldier holds a RPG near the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, as smoke rises from it, Monday Sept 23 2013. Islamic extremist gunmen lobbed grenades and fired assault rifles inside Nairobi's top mall Saturday, killing dozens and wounding over a hundred in the attack. A day after a Twitter post linked Maine to Saturday's terrorist attack in a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, law enforcement officials refused to say whether they are investigating the possibility that radical Islamist groups are trying to recruit new members in the state. (AP Photo/ Sayyid Azim)
Smoke rises over Westgate shopping centre after an explosion in Nairobi, September 23, 2013. A day after a Twitter post linked Maine to Saturday's terrorist attack in a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, law enforcement officials refused to say whether they are investigating the possibility that radical Islamist groups are trying to recruit new members in the state. (REUTERS/Karel Prinsloo)
Pingree's spokesman Willy Ritch indicated later that the office had not been presented with definitive evidence either way.
"The message we were left with from all of the briefings Chellie's office received is that, in these situations, these claims of responsibility are not always true and we need to be very careful about making any assumptions about the validity of them," Ritch said. "Nobody has told us that they are not valid or that they are not accurate. But at the same time, they have urged us to approach these reports with a healthy amount of skepticism."
Pingree plans to meet with Somali leaders Tuesday in Portland.
Maine's Sen. Angus King, an independent, has contacted Mayor Brennan in Portland and representatives of the Somali community.
"Angus' staff has been in touch with counterterrorism officials who are following these developments closely and will keep him apprised of any new developments," King's spokeswoman Crystal Canney said Monday afternoon.
Canney would not provide additional details about King's conversations with counterterrorism officials or say whether the FBI or other authorities had characterized the validity of reports suggesting a link between Maine and the al-Shabab attackers in Kenya.
State Department officials said Sunday night that they were aware of the reports of U.S. residents fighting for al-Shabab in Kenya but could not confirm those reports and were seeking more details. Reached Monday, a State Department official said she had no more information to release.
Law enforcement at the local and federal levels has worked to maintain lines of communication with immigrants from Somalia.
"I believe we have a good working relationship with the Somali community" in Portland, said Sauschuck.
Maine has been mentioned in past years as a possible recruitment site for al-Shabab.
Authorities say that more than 20 young men left Minnesota to join al-Shabab starting in 2007, when small groups of Somalis in Minnesota began holding secret meetings to talk about returning to their homeland to wage jihad against Ethiopians, according to The Associated Press.
The FBI has been aware of the threat since at least 2007. In 2011, an al-Shabab suicide bomber was traced to Minneapolis, where he had been recruited.
FBI officials in Portland said at the time that they were developing relationships with local Somali groups in hopes of learning of any efforts to radicalize and recruit. They also sought to address festering civil-rights issues that might make someone more vulnerable to radicalization.
"The idea that young males from any community, but particularly the Somali community, that radicalize themselves and go overseas to take up the fight -- that has been a concern for a number of years," said Bresson, of the FBI.
Bresson said he is not familiar with Maine's Somali population or the degree to which recruitment might be a problem here.
At least one scholar of al-Shabab said he would not be surprised if the organization has attempted to recruit in Maine.
Josh Meservey, a Maine native, has spent the past several years studying al-Shabab, first while working with Somali refugees in Kenya, Ethiopia and other countries, and later as an academic. He focused on al-Shabab while pursuing a master's degree in international relations from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, and now works as an independent researcher and writer in Washington.
"They've certainly focused a lot of energy on recruiting in the U.S. and in the West in general," said Meservey. "Not only are they very effective in recruiting in the U.S., when those (individuals) go over there they utilize them as fighters. But they also use them as propaganda for the communities that these people left behind."
Meservey said he has not seen any concrete evidence of recruiting in Maine, but when asked whether he believes the group has been active in the state, he said, "I think so."
He said he wouldn't be surprised to learn that Westerners were involved in the attack in Nairobi "because Shabab loves the propaganda value of that."
The Waldoboro native said he has been watching the events with a heavy heart because he lived in Nairobi for several years and spent considerable time at that mall. He said he remembers sitting at a cafe there and talking with colleagues about their security concerns with the mall.
"There were so many (expatriates) there and wealthy Kenyans -- it was such an easy target," Meservey said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:
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Smoke rises from the Westgate shopping center after explosions at the mall in Nairobi on Monday.
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People take cover behind a car along a road during heavy gunfire at Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi September 23, 2013. A day after a Twitter post linked Maine to Saturday's terrorist attack in a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, law enforcement officials refused to say whether they are investigating the possibility that radical Islamist groups are trying to recruit new members in the state. (REUTERS/Noor Khamis)