A naturalized U.S. citizen who reportedly blew himself up in a suicide bomb attempt in Somalia last month might have recruited others to join a terror network, U.S. law enforcement officials tell ABC News.
The officials believe Shirwa Ahmed, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia, blew himself up in a suicide bombing in northern Somalia Oct. 28.
ABC News has learned that agents from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are investigating whether Ahmed had developed a recruiting network in the Minneapolis area where he had been residing before departing for Somalia.
More than a dozen young men of Somali descent, mostly in their 20s, from the Minneapolis area have recently disappeared, U.S. law enforcement officials tell ABC News. All are thought to be associates of Ahmed.
U.S. officials suspect that most of the young men have departed for Somalia to fight in ongoing violence there or to train in terrorist camps. Family members of the young men are said to be distraught, trying to figure out what happened to them, sources tell ABC News.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the matter.
The investigation has not uncovered credible evidence of a plot targeting the U.S. homeland, but U.S. officials want to track down all these young men before they can say for certain what this is or is not. Sources say the situation is being closely monitored by senior law enforcement and intelligence officials in Washington.
CIA director Michael Hayden recently voiced his concern about increased fighting in Somalia and the Horn of Africa and the desire of al Qaeda to strengthen its ties in Somalia.
"In East Africa, al Qaeda's engaging Somali extremists to revitalize operations," said Hayden. "And while there clearly has not yet been an official merger, the leader of the al-Shabaab terrorist group is closely tied to al Qaeda. And the recent bombings in Somalia may have meant, at least in part, may have been meant to strengthen the bona fides of this group with al Qaeda's senior leaders."
"A merger between al-Shabaab and al Qaeda could give Somali extremists much-needed funding while al Qaeda could then claim to be re-establishing its operations based in East Africa," Hayden said. "That's a base that was severely disrupted about two years ago when Ethiopia moved into Somalia."
Two weeks ago, officials in Boston arrested a U.S. citizen traveling to Somalia who was reportedly in communication with Daniel Maldonado, a Muslim convert who moved from the Houston area in 2005 and eventually ended up in an al Qaeda training camp near Mogadishu.
Maldonado was initially detained by Kenyan security forces in 2007. He pleaded guilty to federal charges of training at an al Qaeda camp in Somalia.
In the recent Boston case, Tarek Mehanna was charged with making false statements for allegedly lying to the FBI about his communications with Maldonado while he was in Egypt and Somalia.
According to the charges against Mehanna, Maldonado told him in 2006 he was in Somalia, "I'm here fighting," according to the court papers. The FBI arrested Mehanna as he was leaving the United States to take employment in Saudi Arabia.