When terrorists affiliated with the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab attacked a Kenyan mall, killing at least 62 people and holding hundreds more hostage, something was off. As rescuers, military, and law enforcement made their way through the bloody wreckage, they discovered something shocking. Some of the terrorists appeared to be American citizens.
Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda-affiliated organization whose main goal is an Islamic theocratic state in Somalia, has been recruiting Americans–mostly, but not only, ethnic Somalis from the diaspora–for years. Their recruitment efforts are centered on the Internet, and especiallyTwitter, Facebook, and YouTube. The terrorist group maintains an active English-language Twitter presence and one particular terrorist (who later broke with the organization and was likely killed by them), Alabama-born Arab-American Omar Hammami, even became a social media star of sorts thanks to his verbal sparring with counterterrorism analysts and journalists on Twitter. Since the Internet offered the connective glue that allowed disaffected Somali exiles worldwide to connect alongside militant Islamists, it became Al Shabaab’s link to the outside world.