KAMPALA, Uganda: The Islamist extremist from Minnesota smiles as he compares Somalia to Disneyland, urging other Muslims to come and “take pleasure in this fun. ”But Troy Kastigar, one of three fighters featured in a nearly 40-minute Internet video recently released by the Somali extremist rebel group Al-Shabab, was killed in 2009, not long after leaving Minneapolis to join the militants’ bloody campaign to seize power in Somalia. At the time Al-Shabab held sway in large parts of the capital, Mogadishu, and was fighting African Union troops sent to back the transitional government there.
Although the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab has previously made videos to seek out potential recruits, the latest video focuses on the tragic stories of a trio praised by the narrator as the “Minnesotan martyrs” whose “decisive moment” came when they were killed in combat.
The video, provided to the Associated Press by the IntelCenter, a United States-based company that tracks terrorist groups, was released last week, around the same time a United Nations panel of experts warned in a report to the Security Council that Al-Qaeda’s Internet propaganda programs are becoming more sophisticated.
“Individuals and cells associated with Al-Qaeda and its affiliates continue to innovate with regard to targets, tactics and technology,” said the U.N. experts’ report, which was released last week.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as well as Al-Shabab support high-quality digital propaganda operations, allowing terrorists to spread “infectious ideas” even as Al-Qaeda’s leadership has a diminished ability to direct global terror campaigns, according to the report.
The new Al-Shabab video, called “The Path to Paradise,” promises more in a series spotlighting recruits from Minnesota who abandoned the comforts of home in order to wage jihad against foreign troops in Somalia. The video was originally available on YouTube but has since been taken down because it violates the website’s policy on violence. It features masked men performing military drills in dusty camps as well as what appears to be footage of staged battles among Mogadishu’s ruined buildings.
Kastigar, a convert to Islam who also was known as Abdurahman the American, was killed in Mogadishu in September 2009, about 10 months after arriving from Minnesota, according to the video. The others featured in the video, Mohamud Hassan and Dahir Gure, were native Somalis who had lived in Minnesota before becoming Islamist militants in Somalia.
“This is the best place to be, honestly,” Kastigar says in the video. “If you guys only knew how much fun we have, this is the real Disneyland. You need to come here and join us, take pleasure in this fun.”
Minnesota has one of the largest Somali populations in the United States and the Washington government has long investigated what federal prosecutors call a “deadly pipeline” that allowed some in the U.S. to send money and men to Al-Shabab, which the government has designated a terrorist organization for its links to Al-Qaeda and its tactics that include suicide bombings and assassinations.
In a Minneapolis court earlier this year six men were given jail sentences for their roles in facilitating the travels of more than 20 young men who left Minnesota to join Al-Shabab, a phenomenon that has been called one of the largest efforts to recruit U.S. fighters into a foreign terrorist group. One man, characterized by other suspects as a leader in recruitment efforts, was given 12 years in May, while two women were given lengthy jail terms for their roles in financing for Al-Shabab.
Authorities say the conspiracy in Minnesota began in 2007, when small groups of Somali men began holding secret meetings about returning to their homeland to wage jihad against Ethiopian troops who had been sent to Somalia a year earlier by its U.N.-backed government. Many Somalis viewed the Ethiopians as invaders, and the new Al-Shabab video speaks of foreign troops in Somalia as “grave worshippers” whose presence in the Horn of Africa nation inspired the arrival of recruits from America.