In the Spotlight

News & Features
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Minnesota and terrorists -- is there an attraction?
Larger view
Terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested in Minnesota shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. (MPR file photo)
It'll be three years next month that the French Intelligence Service confirmed that the man authorities were holding in the Sherburne County jail, Zacarias Moussaoui, had ties to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. Since then, Minnesota officials have arrested five more men with alleged ties to terrorist organizations, prompting some to wonder about the state's connection to terrorist cases.

St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota's major terrorism-related cases include Mohammad Warsame, a Minneapolis college student who court documents allege wired money through a Pakistani bank to persons he met at two Al-Qaeda training camps. He supposedly taught English to Al-Qaeda members, and even joined the Taliban front lines. The documents also say he attended a camp where he attended lectures and ate with Osama Bin Laden.

Then there's Mohammad Kamal Elzahabi, formerly of Minneapolis, who was picked up for lying to the FBI about allegedly moving large quantities of radio equipment from New York to Pakistan. Elzahabi allegedly fought as a sniper, and served as an instructor for sniper skills at a training camp in Afghanistan. And then just this past week, a federal grand jury indicted an Iraqi man on three counts of lying to federal agents after he stepped off a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam. Court documents allege Ali Mohammed Abboud Almosaleh lied to U.S. Customs officials when they asked about how long he'd been out of the country, what countries he visited and what he carried on his digital video disks.

Those discs reportedly contained images of an Iraqi militia leader accompanied by calls for resistance against the U.S., Saddam Hussein and the invasion of Iraq, and a possible suicide note.

International terrorism consultant Evan Kohlmann says Minnesota is one of several Midwestern states where there's been an unusual connection to radical groups. He says it's not out of the question that Minnesota could be attractive to terrorists.

Border states allow for relatively easy slipping in and out of the country. ... Three of the top states for terrorism-related arrests and cases are border states.
- International terrorism analyst Jason Korsower

"The Midwest -- and Minnesota -- is not the first place you think that terrorists are going to be interested in scoping out and setting up a base in, and perhaps operating from," says Kohlmann. "I think in the past, especially if you look at the 9/11 plot, the 9/11 hijackers relied on that. They went to Florida, a place where you could really blend in. A place full of new people, outsiders, people who didn't have roots there."

International terrorism analyst Jason Korsower of the Investigative Project says terrorists could also find it easier to live in Minnesota's Muslim population, where they might not only find it convenient, but an easy place in which to blend.

"There is the possibility that terrorists and supporters could take advantage of larger Muslim populations in order to reduce detection. And Minneapolis has a large population of Somalis," says Korsower.

Korsower says Minnesota probably ranks 4th in terrorism-related arrests and prosecutions, behind areas such as New York, Washington D.C. and Phoenix. He says the public shouldn't jump to conclusions that Minnesota has now become a major haven for terrorist activities. He says, however, Minnesota's international border with Canada could increase its attractiveness to would-be terrorists.

"Border states allow for relatively easy slipping in and out of the country," says Korsower. "Interestingly enough, I point out that three of the top states for terrorism-related arrests and cases are border states."

There hasn't been any evidence made public that any of the six men arrested on terrorism-related charges are part of a cell. However, Evan Kohlmann says that information cuts in both directions.

"You could say either that's evidence that it's not an organized conspiracy -- or that's evidence that there's possibly five different conspiracies," says Kohlmann. "I think the one thing you can say is that as long as terrorists are using Minnesota as an operating point, probably it's unlikely they would target the state for an operation."

Ali Mohammed Abboud Almosaleh, the most recent Minnesota terrorism-related arrestee, will make his first appearance in federal court next Tuesday morning.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects