July 14, 2009 / 6:06 PM / 10 years ago

Death of U.S. jihadist in Somalia shocks family

* Mother collapses after seeing images of son’s corpse

* Americans among foreign rebel fighters in Somalia

(Adds background on Somali U.S.community)

By Abdiaziz Hassan

NAIROBI, July 14 (Reuters) - The mother of an American national of Somali origin killed fighting for Islamist rebels in Mogadishu collapsed after seeing images of her dead son being paraded in the street, the man’s uncle said on Tuesday.

The body of Jamal Ahmed Bana, 20, was displayed semi-naked with a bullet hole in his head in Mogadishu at the weekend after battles between al Shabaab insurgents and government forces backed by African Union (AU) troops.

Relatives in Minneapolis, a city in the U.S. Midwest that is home to the largest Somali-American community, identified him from photos on the internet taken by Somali media.

The Somali government says foreign fighters are leading the Islamist insurgency, and there is increasing international concern at the influx of hundreds of jihadists into Somalia — from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Gulf region and western nations including the United States and Britain.

Some, like Bana, are immigrants of Somali origin. Bana was fighting for al Shabaab when he was killed along with roughly 40 other rebels on Saturday, said his uncle, Omar Ahmed Sheikh.

Sheikh said his nephew, a former engineering student at Minnesota’s Hennepin Technical College, was misled by clerics in Minneapolis and persuaded to go to Somalia in November 2008.

"They told him they would teach him Islamic religion ... But they are terrorists and cannot claim they are Muslims."

Sheikh said Bana’s mother, Somali-born Abayte Ahmed Sheikh, was rushed to hospital on Monday after seeing the pictures.

"She was very shocked when she got the news of her son," he told Reuters by telephone. "She is in a serious condition."


Many Somalis fled their homeland after factional fighting began in 1991; an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 live in the United States. Other Somali-American population centres include Seattle, San Diego, Atlanta and Columbus, Ohio.

In March, officials of the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center told Congress that "tens" of Somali-Americans, primarily from Minneapolis, had returned to Somalia to fight with al Shabaab.

Omar Jamal, director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Centre in Minneapolis, told Reuters Bana was one of 18 teenagers who ran away to Somalia last November after attending a youth programme at a local mosque.

"They (the clerics) convinced some of these teenagers to drop out of school, go back home and wage jihad," he said.

Jamal said the families of the 18 youths were shocked when they heard they had run away to join al Shabaab.

"They stayed in the mosque for a week, day and night," Jamal said. "They did not go to school in that week.

"When we questioned the Imam on where the children were, and the content of the lessons that were going on, many people accused us of being against Islam."

Three of the group have since died, Jamal said, adding that al Shabaab was active in the United States and Canada.

"They are here, recruiting young children and brainwashing them," he said. "They do it in an intelligent way, by offering incentives to hopeless street children and teenagers who drop out of schools. They have supporters in Minneapolis. Some are financing them."

Reuters reporters were unable to contact representatives of the Minneapolis mosque by telephone.

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