From Poet to Jihadi: The Story of a Somali American in Minnesota
By Meira Svirsky
The Clarion Project
April 10, 2016
He had everything going for him – except the will to resist a powerful and angry narrative that eventually pulled him in.
Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame, now 21, was on the path to fulfilling the American dream. And it wasn’t a just a materialist dream, the kind that leaves feelings of emptiness upon achievement.
By the time he was a teenager, he was expressing himself as a poet and actualizing talents in art and music. He was active at a local neighborhood center and part of a local arts group. He began talking to other young Somalis about following their dreams. In a video he made as a teenager in 2011, Warsame says, “You guys are tomorrow. And all you have to have, to get anywhere you want, is determination.”
Warsame, a Somali American, came to America when he was 10 months old. One of eight children, Warsane grew up in a neighborhood called “Little Mogadishu.” His mother and cousin were prominent voices in the movement to prevent the radicalization of the next generation of Somali Americans.
Warsame himself is described as a person who was successfully taking advantages of opportunities he was offered. Post high school, he held down jobs, attended a community college and had support from his family.
Still, Warsame gravitated to negative influences, problematic friends that concerned his mother. In 2014, she sent him away from Minneapolis to Chicago to live with his father. But it wasn’t enough. Warsame began watching videos of lectures by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American Yemani imam described as the “Bin Laden of the internet.” Awlaki, a high-level Al Qaeda operative, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, the first U.S. citizen to be so targeted.
From a young man who had spoken out against violence, Warsame became enthralled with beheading videos. He came to conclude that as a devout Muslim, he must join the fight against the infidels. In 2014, Warsame, with a group of friends plotted to go to Syria to join the Islamic State. According to his confession to authorities, Warsame was the ”emir,” the leader of a group recruiting and encouraging other young Somalis to join the terror group.
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