Terror and the moderate imam

Three San Diego men appeared in federal court on Wednesday, charged with aiding the terrorist organization Al-Shabaab. You can read details of the indictment at Courthouse News Service. Al-Shabaab is an Islamic insurgent group that is active in Somalia. It's officially linked to Al Qaeda, has an arm just for targeting Jews, and has been involved in everything from embassy bombings to attempts on the life of a Dutch cartoonist who drew images of Muhammad. Some media outlets, such as the BBC and Agence France Presse, gave a brief overview of the details of the charges without any discussion of religion. Others did better. KPBS noted, for instance, that one of the men charged is an imam at a local mosque. The San Diego Union-Tribune advanced the story by giving more details about the imam and how members of the mosque are responding to the arrests:

The arrest of the leader of a City Heights mosque, a man described as a revered figure who was known for advocating nonviolence and tolerance, has stunned the close-knit Somali community in City Heights, where many refugees of the war-torn country live, work and pray.

The imam is named Mohamed Mohamed Mohamud and is 38 years old. The mosque primarily serves the Muslim Somali community there in San Diego. The reporters ask the members what they think:

"He is the center of the community here," Hassan said. "Everyone likes him. When anyone needs help, he is the first person to help. His arrest was very shocking. He is a godfather person to the community."

The reaction was similar throughout the community, where thousands of Somalis live in sprawling apartment complexes and work in local stores and restaurants. Most did not want to give their names, but they expressed a similar theme: They want to refrain from judgment about guilt or innocence until the case is decided in the court system.

"This is very, very sensitive," said one longtime area resident. "We come from a place where the government is always fabricating the truth." But he said he has faith in the U.S. justice system, adding that "no one is above the law."

The story does a good job of getting perspective from the local community. We may expect to see more stories about these arrests and indictment in the days to come so I hope the continued coverage answers some questions. I'd love to know more about Mohamud. The reporters say he is known for advocating tolerance and non-violence. If these charges are accurate, however, he's supporting an extremely violent and intolerant group -- among much more violent acts, Al Shabaab has apparently whipped women who wear bras for engaging in deception.

So I hope we learn more these men, how they came to get into this trouble, more about how their non-terrorist brethren in the community handle the news. And it would also be nice to learn a bit more about what Mohamud was teaching, how he got his reputation, and how it jives with the accusations for which he was arrested.

One more thing -- most every story I read about these arrests, mentioned that Al Shabaab was a violent group, but they didn't explain anything about that violence or what it's motivated by. Even if Al Shabaab is a relatively well known terrorist organization, it still helps to get a reminder about which acts of terror they've carried out.

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