Federal agents say a series of raids carried out across the metro area Wednesday were aimed a breaking up a major synthetic drug network.
Local law enforcement and at least five federal agencies teamed up to conduct simultaneous raids in St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Lincoln County and Jefferson County.
The DEA's acting agent in charge, James Shroba calls synthetic drugs a dangerous "new frontier" of drug use and abuse. "They hook kids with the idea that these are legal, synthetic drugs, when in fact, we know they're not," he said.
Shroba says yesterday's raids included sites that were being used to manufacture, package and distribute the drugs. "This is the tip of the iceberg," he said. "This is a significant, synthetic drug operation."
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Leaders of the nation's largest Somali community say some of their young men are still being enticed to join the terror group that has claimed responsibility for the deadly mall attack in Kenya, despite a concentrated effort to shut off what authorities call a "deadly pipeline" of men and money.
Six years have passed since Somali-American fighters began leaving Minnesota to become part of al-Shabab. Now the Somali community is dismayed over reports that a few of its own might have been involved in the violence at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
"One thing I know is the fear is growing," said Abdirizak Bihi, whose nephew was among at least six men from Minnesota who have died in Somalia. More are presumed dead.
Since 2007, at least 22 young men have left Minnesota to join al-Shabab, including two who did so last summer. Unconfirmed reports that two more left earlier this month have deepened concerns.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said Tuesday that initial reports had suggested a British woman and two or three American citizens may have been involved in the attack. But neither Kenyan authorities nor the Minneapolis FBI office had any confirmation.
Minnesota's Somali community, concentrated in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, includes people who fled the long civil war in their east African homeland and children born in the U.S. Many are now American citizens.
The movement of Somalis who've come to be known as "travelers" remains "a priority investigation for the Minneapolis office," FBI Special Agent Kyle Loven said.
At least 18 men and three women have been charged in the ongoing Minnesota investigation. Some went to Somalia while others were accused of aiding the effort mainly by raising money.
Seven men pleaded guilty to various charges. One man was convicted on terrorism-related charges last year. Two women were convicted in 2011 of being fundraisers for al-Shabab. A third woman pleaded guilty last month to lying to a grand jury. The other defendants remain at large, or are confirmed or presumed dead.
Al-Shabab means "The Youth" in Arabic. The group uses a mixture of religion, nationalism and deception to lure young people, said Omar Jamal, a longtime local activist who now serves as the first secretary for the Somali mission to the United Nations.
"They misinform people, and they target young, impressionable kids," Jamal said. "They literally brainwash them. It's a very dangerous cult."
Al-Shabab's local recruitment efforts began in 2007 when small groups began discussing returning home to fight Ethiopian troops who entered Somalia to prop up a weak U.N.-backed government and were seen by many Somalis as foreign invaders. The recruiters aimed their appeal at the young men's patriotic and religious ideals.
Ethiopian troops pulled out of Somalia in 2009, but al-Shabab kept up its fight for power. According to Valentina Soria, a security analyst with London-based IHS Jane's, al-Shabab has increasingly focused in the past three years on the recruitment of western nationals and members of the Somali diaspora in the U.S. and Europe to offset its declining domestic support.
Anders Folk was an assistant U.S. attorney in Minneapolis for several years of the recruiting investigation before leaving for private practice. Al-Shabab's recruiting was at least as effective after the Ethiopians left as before, he said.
"Al Shabab's recruiting technique was essentially a call to jihad, that this is a religious duty," Folk said. "It was a call to jihad to come and fight."
Internet videos are a major tool for the group. Many feature scenes of men with covered faces firing automatic weapons, marching or practicing martial arts, as well as images of dead bodies and religious documents. Some show English-speaking suicide bombers reciting last wills.
The group often appeals young men who've had trouble assimilating into American life, perhaps because they are unable to get a job, dropped out of school or got involved in gangs, Jamal said.
He cited a recently released al-Shabab propaganda video that lauded three "Minnesotan martyrs," including the American-born non-Somali Troy Kastigar, a convert to Islam.
Smiling and laughing in the footage, Kastigar called his battle experiences "the real Disneyland" and urged other Muslims to come and "take pleasure in this fun." He was killed in 2009 in Mogadishu, according to the video.
The recruiters masquerade "as people who are there for you at your lowest point," said Abdul Mohamed, a spokesman for Ka Joog, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit whose name means "stay away," which works to provide positive alternatives for Somali youth through education, the arts and mentorship.
"Instead of shying away from this issue and letting it separate us, it's best if we take it on headstrong and steadfast so in the future we can prevent it from happening," Mohamed said. "At the end of the day, these kids are full of potential."
Associated Press writer Amy Forliti contributed to this report from New York.
DALBADI, Pakistan (AP) — Survivors built makeshift shelters with sticks and bedsheets after their mud houses were flattened in an earthquake that killed 348 people in southwestern Pakistan and pushed a new island up out of the Arabian Sea.
While waiting for help to reach remote villages, hungry people dug through the rubble to find food. And the country's poorest province struggled with a dearth of medical supplies, hospitals and other aid.
Tuesday's quake flattened wide swathes of Awaran district, where it was centered, leaving much of the population homeless.
Almost all of the 300 mud-brick homes in the village of Dalbadi were destroyed. Noor Ahmad said he was working when the quake struck and rushed home to find his house leveled and his wife and son dead.
"I'm broken," he said. "I have lost my family."
The spokesman for the Baluchistan provincial government, Jan Mohammad Bulaidi, said Thursday that the death toll had climbed to 348 and that another 552 people had been injured.
Doctors in the village treated some of the injured, but due to a scarcity of medicine and staff, they were mostly seen comforting residents.
The remoteness of the area and the lack of infrastructure hampered relief efforts. Awaran district is one of the poorest in the country's most impoverished province.
Just getting to victims was challenging in a region with almost no roads where many people use four-wheel-drive vehicles and camels to traverse the rough terrain.
"We need more tents, more medicine and more food," said Bulaidi.
Associated Press images from the village of Kaich showed the devastation. Houses made mostly of mud and handmade bricks had collapsed. Walls and roofs caved in, and people's possessions were scattered on the ground. A few goats roamed through the ruins.
The Pakistani military said it had rushed almost 1,000 troops to the area overnight and was sending helicopters as well. A convoy of 60 Pakistani army trucks left the port city of Karachi early Wednesday with supplies.
Pakistani forces have evacuated more than 170 people from various villages around Awaran to the district hospital, the military said. Others were evacuated to Karachi.
One survivor interviewed in his Karachi hospital bed said he was sleeping when the quake struck.
"I don't know who brought me from Awaran to here in Karachi, but I feel back pain and severe pain in my whole body," he said.
Jan said he didn't know what happened to the man's family. He was trying to contact relatives.
Local officials said they were sending doctors, food and 1,000 tents for people who had nowhere to sleep. The efforts were complicated by strong aftershocks.
Baluchistan is Pakistan's largest province but also the least populated. Medical facilities are few and often poorly stocked with supplies and qualified personnel. Awaran district has about 300,000 residents spread out over 29,000 square kilometers (11,197 square miles).
The local economy consists mostly of smuggling fuel from Iran or harvesting dates.
The area where the quake struck is at the center of an insurgency that Baluch separatists have been waging against the Pakistani government for years. The separatists regularly attack Pakistani troops and symbols of the state, such as infrastructure projects.
It's also prone to earthquakes. A magnitude 7.8 quake centered just across the border in Iran killed at least 35 people in Pakistan last April.
Tuesday's shaking was so violent it drove up mud and earth from the seafloor to create an island off the Pakistani coast.
A Pakistani Navy team reached the island by midday Wednesday. Navy geologist Mohammed Danish told the country's Geo Television that the mass was a little wider than a tennis court and slightly shorter than a football field.
The director of the National Seismic Monitoring Center confirmed that the mass was created by the quake and said scientists were trying to determine how it happened. Zahid Rafi said such masses are sometimes created by the movement of gases locked in the earth that push mud to the surface.
"That big shock beneath the earth causes a lot of disturbance," he said.
He said these types of islands can remain for a long time or eventually subside back into the ocean, depending on their makeup.
He warned residents not to visit the island because it was emitting dangerous gases.
But dozens of people went anyway, including the deputy commissioner of Gwadar district, Tufail Baloch.
Water bubbled along the edges of the island. The land was stable but the air smelled of gas that caught fire when people lit cigarettes, Baloch said.
Dead fish floated on the water's surface while residents visited the island and took stones as souvenirs, he added.
Similar land masses appeared off Pakistan's coast following quakes in 1999 and 2010, said Muhammed Arshad, a hydrographer with the navy. They eventually disappeared into the sea during the rainy season.
Santana reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Abdul Sattar in Quetta, Asif Shahzad in Islamabad and Adil Jawad in Karachi contributed to this report.