Dozens of Somali community members concerned about the recruitment of local youth into extremist groups called for more resources to help combat the radicalization of their children.
More than 60 people at the Brian Coyle Community Center in Minneapolis on Sunday heard Somali leaders, an imam and U.S. Attorney Andy Luger call for more expanded efforts to support Somali youth, more mentorship of youth by elders and increased partnerships between the community and law enforcement.
Minneapolis resident Ali Hayle said previous pledges by authorities to work with the community left him jaded when they didn’t seem to follow through with action. But Hayle said he left Sunday’s town hall meeting optimistic about the community’s future and the speakers’ sincerity.
“Hopefully, things will change,” Hayle said.
Several Minnesota youths recruited to fight in Somalia or Syria have died on those battlefields.
Hayle and other speakers said a key to fighting the recruitment of youth into terrorist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Al-Shabab, an Al-Qaida-linked group, is creating an environment in Minnesota where Somalis and other immigrants feel welcomed and have opportunities to succeed.
Amano Dube, director of the Brian Coyle Community Center, said investing in education and after school programs will give youth the skills and opportunities to pursue other avenues in life.
“If we have … programs like that, no one will choose negativity,” Dube said.
Activist Ilhan Omar said that conversations about fighting radicalism often focus on younger children, when most of the approximately 20 people recruited out of Minnesota were older than 22 at the time. Omar said many youths become vulnerable during high school when they face an identity crisis about what it means to be Somali, Muslim and an American.
She urged community members to take it upon themselves to combat radicalization.
“We shouldn’t just think about financial resources,” Omar said, “but about how each of us can be a resource for that young person who is struggling.”
Luger told the crowd that quashing the discrimination Somalis face here will help address the “root cause” of radicalization.
He said some Somalis have expressed concern about treatment at the airport, prompting a meeting with community members and the Transportation Security Administration at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport that Luger called one step in many toward ending the recruitment of Somali youth.
Luger pledged to take community members with him to a meeting at the White House in October addressing the recruitment of Somali youth.
“I want you to know this is not an attack on the Somali community,” Luger said of the fight against radicalization. “This is something we’re doing together.”