The recent rash of charges against Somali-Americans on "conspiracy to provide material support" to al-Shabaab, a Somali rebel group on the U.S. terrorism list, seems designed to send a clear message that any support for the militants will lead to criminal prosecution. It also demonstrates the ubiquitous presence of law enforcement in these communities.
The Obama administration must be careful, however, not to play into the hands of jihadists by overreacting or seeming to unfairly target Somali immigrants.
The recent arrest of Mohamed Osman Mahmoud, a 19-year-old Oregonian of Somali descent, is a case in point. Like other inept would-be terrorists who fell for recent FBI sting operations, Mahmoud was obviously incapable of pulling off any complex operation without the help of the FBI. His attempts to contact international jihadists had failed. FBI agents then contacted him, built the bomb, and provided the suspect with money to rent an apartment. His indictment states Mahmoud wanted to commit an act of terrorism since he was 15 years old. Although Mahmoud's alleged views are deplorable, merely fantasizing about jihad is not a crime.
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