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Somalis from Minnesota may have sought to join Syrian rebels in civil war, FBI says

MINNEAPOLIS — Young Somalis from Minnesota may have tried to travel to Syria to join the civil war against the government there, the FBI said Tuesday.

Investigators are looking into the extent of the matter, said Kyle A. Loven, a spokesman for the FBI in Minneapolis.

“Information recently came to our attention which indicated with the ultimate goal of joining with rebel forces in Syria to fight against the Assad regime,” Loven said.

Opposition forces in Syria, including some suspected extremist factions, have been fighting the government of President Bashar Assad for more than three years. The civil war has drawn thousands of foreign fighters, by some estimates — including those with ties to al-Qaida and other militant Islamist groups.

Loven declined to say how many people may have traveled there from Minnesota, when the migration might have happened or whether anyone is in custody. The investigation is active, he said.

The FBI posted a request on its Minneapolis website Tuesday afternoon asking for information about anyone who has been recruited, planned to travel or already traveled abroad to fight. The Minneapolis office is the only FBI office nationwide that posted the public request.

Anyone with information can submit anonymous tips online or call 763-569-8020.

Teenagers and young adults are generally most at risk, Loven said. He said they’re often coerced by recruiters or influenced by online propaganda.

The FBI is “actively engaged” with Somali leaders here to get a handle on the issue and reach out to at-risk individuals in the large East African community, he said.

It’s against federal law for U.S. citizens to take up arms in foreign conflicts, Loven said.

The matter echoes the recruitment of young men from Minnesota by al-Shabaab, an Islamist terrorist organization in Somalia. Nearly two dozen men have left Minnesota over the past seven years to fight for the group, leading to federal court cases against those accused of traveling and those accused of helping them.

The concerns about Syria come about a week after an American from Vero Beach, Fla., carried out a suicide bombing against Syrian government troops in the city of Idlib. Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha is believed to be the first U.S. citizen involved in a suicide bombing in Syria’s civil war.

Early last month, FBI Director James Comey said dozens of Americans were among the growing number of foreign fighters who joined the Syrian conflict in recent months. Investigators have expressed concern these fighters could become radicalized by jihadists, and bring those influences back home.

Tad Vezner contributed to this report, The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.