After a long investigation the U.S. recently sought to arrest five Somali women who had, since 2011, raised and delivered over $5,000 to Somali Islamic terrorist group al Shabaab. Two of the women were arrested in the U.S., one in the Netherlands but two are still at large in Kenya and Somalia. The five used coded phone and Internet communications to solicit and move (in small amounts, usually under $100) the money disguised as remittances sent to friends and families in Somalia. This is part of a growing effort in the West to crack down on fund raising and recruiting by Islamic terrorists groups among refugee populations.
Al Shabaab has been a particular target of this effort because this group is more dependent than most on cash contributions and help from overseas Somalis. Earlier in 2014 Al Shabaab released a slick recruiting video on the Internet that was aimed at the Somali refugees and migrants living in the United States. The video called on young Somalis overseas to get on the next plane to Mogadishu and join the jihad (struggle) against the enemies of Islam (anyone who does not agree with al Shabaab and al Qaeda). Meanwhile inside Somalia a large minority of the population survives because of money (nearly a billion dollars a year) sent by family members now living in the West. A small portion of that money has been going to groups like al Shabaab.
In addition to millions in cash at least a thousand expatriate Somalis have been persuaded to return and join al Shabaab. Most have died, but some have returned to the country that gave them refuge either disillusioned or motivated to bring some jihad to the Western country that took them in. It is believed that less than a hundred of these foreign recruits came from the United States, but al Shabaab needs all the help it can get, from wherever it can get it.
The extent of the al Shabaab woes could be seen in 2013 when pro-terrorist Internet sites lit up with discussions and criticism of al Shabaab because of the many setback the Somali terrorists had recently suffered. Most fanboys (and a few fangirls) demanded that something be done (one way or the other) to revive al Shabaab. The impact of this al Shabaab collapse was felt in the Somali exile community. Al Shabaab was no longer able to obtain much money, or recruits from these expatriate Somalis. Al Shabaab had lost its luster but continues using the Internet in an attempt to regain some of its appeal to the young expatriate Somali men with lives to give and their parents with money to donate. The U.S. sees shutting down the remaining expatriate al Shabaab fund raisers as particularly important because al Shabaab is currently in such bad shape.
Since 2011 al Shabaab has been under attack by peacekeepers and local troops in Somalia. This has reduced al Shabaab strength and effectiveness considerably. At the same time many overseas supporters were arrested, disillusioned or simply scared off. It used to be that young Somali men living outside the country were easy prey for recruiters and older Somali exiles could be persuaded (sometimes with threats against kin still in Somalia) to be generous with cash contributions.
There are eleven million Somalis in Somalia (including Puntland and Somaliland) and nearly two million refugees and expatriates outside Somalia. Nearly half a million Somalis have made to the West and they are the main source of cash contributions because they have the most money.
Because expatriate Somalis rarely discuss their business with non-Somalis all this al Shabaab activity did not become apparent until government officials began to notice that many of these young, male Somalis had disappeared. This caught the attention of police departments that were monitoring Somali gangs. These gangs tended to prey upon other Somalis, but sometimes went after non-Somalis as well. Investigating this gang activity revealed the missing Somalis and the al Shabaab fund raising methods.
Over the last few years, as investigations led to arrests, indictments, prosecutions and convictions a lot more detail of this al Shabaab activity came out. The al Shabaab network in North America and Europe was far more extensive than anyone suspected and that led to increased efforts to disable or destroy this network.