WASHINGTON - Al Qaeda's Somali franchise is sending a “friend request” and offering a one-way ticket to martyrdom to young Americans this week with a new video urging potential recruits in rhyme to catch "the next flight to Mogadishu."
The short tape by al-Shabab extremists displayed an airline "boarding pass" originating from Minneapolis, where more than 24 Somali-Americans since 2008 have been recruited to join the group in East Africa, according to federal prosecutors.
Squatting amidst a gaggle of fighters in woodland camouflage brandishing Kalashnikov rifles and with their faces swathed in kaffiyeh scarves, an unidentified militant speaking what appeared to be American English read a short poem appealing to his countrymen.
"This is a message to the youth in the West; A caring brother sends you a friend request," the speaker begins, advising that tossing a few clothes in a backpack and joining their jihad "is the smart call, just like the brothers in the Westgate Mall.”
Last September, a small band of al-Shabab terrorists entered the upscale Westgate Mall frequented by westerners in Nairobi, Kenya, and began killing shoppers.
"You’d make a fine troop," the American al-Shabab fighter concluded. "So, next flight to Mogadishu, what’s missing is you.”
Al-Shabab leader Mukhtar Ali Zubeyr, known as "Godane," has eliminated rivals within the group and, after finally being designated as an official franchise of al Qaeda in 2012 by al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, wants his foreign fighters "to stay relevant," said one Africa expert.
"All of his threats are out of the way. His foreign fighters are trying to stay afloat now that they're part of al Qaeda," Rudy Atallah, an Atlantic Council expert retired from U.S. special operations, told ABC News today.
On top of those from the twin cities' large Somali community, more than three dozen other Americans -- not all of Somali descent -- in places such as Daphne, Alabama; Seattle, Washington; Portland, Maine and elsewhere also have joined Shabab, were nabbed while recruiting for the group or attempted to travel to Somalia to fight with their "mujahideen."
No other al Qaeda franchise -- much less the Pakistan-based “core” of the organization -- has accumulated so many radicalized Americans and other westerners, including Britons. Al-Shabab has leveraged this success to appeal to others.
The video released Tuesday was part of a series by Shabab called "Mujahideen Moments." The first "episode," released in February 2013, starred a disguised American jihadi calling himself "Abu Ahmed al-Amriki," who implored westerners to fight in Somalia, Mali, Afghanistan and Iraq or to “fight the enemies of Allah where you find them.”
“America is going down,” the man said.