The recent conviction of three young Somali-American men from Minnesota on terrorism charges chillingly detailed Middle East-based extremists’ broad reach. After watching online videos and exchanging social media messages, the three succumbed to false promises of desert glory and prepared to join the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria.
Fortunately, they were intercepted by officers before they reached their destination — a testament to American law enforcement’s dedication. But stopping wannabe jihadis is just one strategy needed to thwart radicalization. Prevention is also critical. Building resilient communities — where education, opportunity and a sense of belonging abound — helps inoculate new Americans against terrorist recruiters and keeps all Americans safer.
To Minnesota’s credit, its Legislature took action this year to fund preventive measures even as federal officials dither. In a session marred by gridlock, an initiative providing $2 million in grant money for Somali-American youth development garnered bipartisan support. The state is home to the nation’s largest Somali-American community. Young Somali-Americans from here have been recruited by Al-Shabab, an African terrorist organization, and are now being targeted by ISIL.
Half of the grant money, $1 million, will go to Youthprise, a respected Twin Cities nonprofit that already has distributed $300,000 in youth development grants as part of a federal anti-radicalization pilot program. The state Department of Employment and Economic Development will administer the other half directly.
Minnesota’s willingness to fund these programs stands in welcome contrast to federal inaction. An April 24 Star Tribune editorial called out the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Congress for the paltry sum — $10 million — appropriated this fiscal year for community organizations working with young people at risk of radicalization. Experts say Minneapolis-St. Paul alone needs $5 million a year. The editorial also pushed for the $2 million in state grants, noting waiting lists for Somali youth soccer leagues and other after-school programs.
Minnesota lawmakers still have work to do. They passed $400,000 in funding for another critical prevention program — the Cedar-Riverside Opportunity Center. This private-public initiative involving Cedar-Riverside neighborhood advocates, Hennepin County and nearby employers seeks to create a job-training center in the impoverished metro neighborhood where many Somali-Americans live. The center would create “pathways” to employment, capitalizing on the proximity of large employers such as Fairview Health Services. The center is also seeking to supplement state funds with private donations.
The initiative, however, was included in legislation vetoed this week by Gov. Mark Dayton. Giving lawmakers another chance to enact it is yet another reason for a special legislative session.