WASHINGTON -- Twice as many Americans as previously reported by law enforcement have traveled overseas to join an al-Qaida-linked organization, a congressional investigation has found.
The findings, discussed in a congressional hearing Friday, are an indication the Somalia-based terrorist group has an even deeper reach into the United States. More than 40 Americans have traveled to war-torn Somalia to join the group al-Shabab, an investigation by Republican staff on the House Homeland Security Committee found.
Al-Shabab, which initially focused on regional grievances, has expanded its focus to include targeting the West and recruiting Americans toward that cause. In at least one instance, the U.S. government said, al-Shabab received training from al-Qaida's offshoot in Yemen.
Publicly, authorities have said at least 21 men left the Minneapolis area for Somalia since late 2007 and are believed to have joined al-Shabab. Four have died in the country, according to information from the FBI and family members.
Others are feared dead, and the committee's investigation found that at least 15 of the 40 Americans have been killed while fighting. In recent years, more than 35 people from across the United States have been charged with having connections to al-Shabab, including some who have been indicted on charges of raising money to fund the terror group.
Details of the findings came out during the third in a series of congressional hearings examining the radical Islamic terror threat in the United States. Committee chairman Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) has been criticized for singling out one religion instead of looking at all issues of domestic extremism. In response, King said only one group has killed 3,000 Americans: al-Qaida, which espouses a violent interpretation of Islam and was behind the 9/11 attacks.
The top Democrat on the committee said the threat from al-Shabab has been overstated, as the number of Americans who left to go to Somalia is small and confined to a two-year period. "Al-Shabab does not appear to present any danger to this homeland," Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said.