PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A leading American expert on terrorism says Al-Shabaab has attempted to recruit people in Maine.
Evan Kohlmann appeared on The Today Show Sunday morning to answer questions about the Nairobi attacks. During that interview, Kohlmann told NBC's Lester Holt that Al-Shabaab has been actively recruiting members of the Somali community in cities around the U.S. One of the cities he named was Portland, Maine.
NEWS CENTER spoke with Kohlmann in a satellite interview Sunday to ask him about his remarks.
Kohlmann spends extensive time researching and monitoring radical jihadist and terror groups online. But he says, that is not where he has seen the evidence that Al-Shabaab is recruiting Somalis in Portland.
"My experience with seeing this pattern is not through my work on studying terrorist communications on the internet, it's actually through doing work with the federal government on Shabaab criminal cases, and there are particular places that continually come up in the communications of people involved in recruiting or fundraising for al Shabaab," kohlmann said. "And again it's a very specific, short list of places: San Diego, Minneapolis, Seattle, Washington, Portland, Maine. And the reason is that's where the Somali community is in the United States, so that's where they perceive there may be individuals willing to fund or otherwise support this activity."
He stresses that there is not a large group of people in Portland connected with al-Shabaab, but instead a handful of individuals, and he describes those individuals as victims.
"So the choice of Portland is not because there is an overwhelming number of radicals in the neighborhood, it's simply because of the fact that Shabaab is looking to prey upon Somali communities. And prey upon is the right way of doing this because they are victimizing Somalis, and I think it's important to emphasize here, the vast, vast majority of Somali Americans have no interest in Shabaab."
Kohlmann says the FBI has been investigating and trying to stop this kind of recruiting and fundraising for several years. He says the Somali community is also working to put a stop to it.
"This is a very small minority of people. Most Somali-Americans want absolutely nothing to do with al Shabaab and by no means should we demonize Somali-Americans because of the actions of a few deranged individuals."
Maine Senator Angus King has been briefed on the situation and released a statement Sunday evening.
"It appears that a terrorist group based in Somalia has claimed responsibility for the horrendous killings this weekend in Kenya. According to news reports, this group has made attempts over the past several years to recruit from Somali refugee communities around the world, including England, Sweden, Russia, and the Middle East as well as in the US, in Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas, Arizona and Maine. Any such activity in Maine is of especial concern to me and I will be working with Homeland Security, the FBI and my colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee to gather the facts of this situation and help guide the appropriate response.
In pursing this matter, justice should be swift and sure for those involved in this crime, including anyone with connections to Maine. At the same time, however, we must avoid assigning blame to members of our refugee community generally, the vast majority of whom came here specifically to avoid such violence and want nothing more than the chance to live peaceful and productive lives, as generations of refugees to our country have done before them.
Terrorism is particularly insidious because so much harm can be inflicted by so few and this incident only underlines the importance of constant vigilance in the pursuit of terrorist threats to our country."