New Jersey man arrested for attempting to join Shabaab, inspired by support of Hamas

The U.S. Department of Justice has arrested an American citizen living in Egypt, who traveled to Kenya to join Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, in the wake of Hamas’ brutal Oct. 7 terror attack and massacre in southern Israel. Karrem Nasr, a resident of New Jersey, has been charged with material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Nasr was “motivated by the heinous terrorist attack perpetrated by Hamas on October 7, devoted himself to waging violent jihad against America and its allies,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in the DoJ press release that accompanied the criminal complaint.

Nasr was “bent on joining and training with al Shabaab so that he could execute his jihadist mission of death and destruction” and “prepared to kill and be killed to support the jihadist cause,” Williams said. “[I]n his own words, he described America as ‘evil’ and the ‘head of the snake.’” 

The FBI penetrated Nasr’s plot with the help of a confidential informant “who was posing as a facilitator for terrorist organizations.” The FBI provided screenshots of communications on X (formerly Twitter) between the confidential informant and Nasr in which the latter expressed his support for jihad and his desire to conduct terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

Social media post
Social media post

Nasr traveled to Egypt sometime in July 2023, and after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, he reportedly decided to actively wage jihad. He “took specific steps to join and receive military training from al-Shabaab, including making flight and lodging reservations for travel to Kenya, where he planned to meet members of al Shabaab for further travel to Somalia to join and train with the group,” according to the DoJ. On Dec. 14, Nasr flew to Kenya, with the intent of meeting Shabaab handlers and to then cross the border into Somalia to receive training.

Social media post

Kenyan authorities immediately arrested Nasr upon his arrival at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and transferred him to U.S. custody.

Shabaab attempting to mobilize jihadists worldwide

Since the Hamas-led invasion of Israel, Shabaab has publicly celebrated the mass murder of Israelis and Jews. In doing so, it hoped to mobilize supporters around the world to take action by capitalizing on the collective anger. Today’s charges show that this strategy is working. 

In official statements, it has put forth such celebrations of the Palestinian militants as “we salute all the brave heroes, the brave commandos, and all those stationed in the Holy Land, and we say to all of them: May God reward you with good on behalf of the Islamic Ummah [worldwide Islamic community], and may God reward you for your jihad and your noble deeds.”

On the ground inside southern and central Somalia – where it still maintains control over vast swaths of Somali territory – it even hosted pro-Palestine rallies, wherein men, women, and children are seen holding signs that say such slogans as “Our hearts are in Palestine, our bodies are in Somalia” and “We say to the whole world: the Palestinian issue is our issue.”

Shabaab, much like other al-Qaeda branches, put the fighting in Gaza within the context of the global jihad. 

For instance, in one of Shabaab’s communiques it also stated that “this battle with the criminal Jews is not just the battle of the Islamic factions in the land of Palestine in particular, but rather the battle of the entire Muslim Ummah.” 

As such, according to the Somali group, “Muslims must gather and offer everything they can to support the mujahideen against the Jews and their hypocritical infidel allies. The strength of this nation lies in the strength of its jihadist fronts.”

To note, al-Qaeda has little to do with hostilities inside Israel or Palestine (despite nominal affiliations with small Gaza-based units such as Jaysh al-Ummah). However, the group and its various branches and allies around the world often seek to capitalize on the collective anger among the wider Muslim world over the conflict for its own benefit. 

Al-Qaeda has also targeted Israeli and Jewish targets globally in the past, including in East Africa, wherein it targeted Israeli commercial aircraft and a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2002. Those involved in those attacks would also go on to help found Shabaab.

The various statements from al-Qaeda global branches show that while al-Qaeda has taken a hardline approach against the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian representative, it nevertheless celebrates Hamas’ recent mass killings of Jews. 

Shabaab, for its part, has also proven itself to be one of the more active al-Qaeda branches at supporting, planning, and fomenting acts of terror abroad for the global organization. 

For instance, it pioneered the use of a laptop bomb smuggled onto an aircraft in 2016. In 2019, one of its members was arrested in the Philippines, where he was taking flight lessons in support of a “9/11-style operation.” 

A second Shabaab member was arrested in an unspecified African country undergoing similar training in 2020. And though the exact reasons for their presence in Costa Rica is so far unclear, two Shabaab members have been arrested in the Central American country this year, including the son of a senior leader.

And as shown by the case of Karrem Nasr, Shabaab is attempting to now use the collective anger over the fighting in Gaza to recruit, mobilize, and prepare individuals to commit acts of terror for al-Qaeda’s wider jihad. 

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is a research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

Tags: , , , , , ,


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram