Federal officials doubled down on their desire to bring local communities to the table to fight terror recruitment and extremism at a national summit Thursday on the University of Minnesota campus.

The all-day event, run by the nonprofit Global Minnesota under the banner of seeking "peacebuilding approaches to countering extremism," attracted federal law enforcement and elected officials, local nonprofits, activists and students from Minneapolis to Tunisia.

The Twin Cities' federal pilot project aimed at halting terror recruitment of Somali-American youths was the subject of a midday featured discussion, but U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., opened the summit by cautioning against disproportionately targeting Muslim communities for the countering violent extremism (CVE) efforts. Such efforts, he said, ignore other kinds of homegrown terror and stoke divides.

"We're going to insist on being safe but we're also going to insist on being treated fairly," said Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress and a recent subject of death threats by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. "If you give up one in search of the other you're probably going to end up losing both."

Ellison's remarks came during an introduction of George Selim, who leads the Department of Homeland Security's new office of community partnerships and is helping oversee the rollout of a $10 million CVE grant program.

Selim said he welcomed the discourse and acknowledged one of the day's main themes: There is no uniform agreement on the best way to tackle terror recruitment and the risk of violence on American soil.

"The nature and scope of the threat is diverse, so our model needs to be equally diverse and tailored to local demographics," Selim said. "There has to be another way other than arrest and prosecution, and putting young people away for the majority of their lives."

Focus on Minnesota

Selim's visit follows the June guilty verdicts in the federal trial of three Minneapolis men indicted along with seven others on charges that included conspiring to travel abroad to join ISIL. All nine men convicted — a 10th made it to Syria in 2014 — are now awaiting sentencing.

The case trained an international focus on the Twin Cities, not long after another two dozen Somali-Americans were thought to have traveled to Somalia to fight for Al-Shabab. U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger has also helped steer one of three federal pilot projects aimed at fighting extremism.

The Minnesota-based pilot, which was renamed Building Community Resilience, has so far put federal and private money into a half-dozen Somali-led nonprofits. It has tried to create local teams that can offer an "off ramp" for those suspected of being headed toward radicalization.

"Right now, at this moment, community members are working with youth who are on that path of radicalization to get off," Luger said.

He added that a father recently asked federal agents to speak to his son, whose first question was whether he would be asked to become a snitch if he elected to see a social worker. The question echoed the concerns of those weary of interventions turning into criminal cases.

"No, this is not about that," Luger said. "This is about saving lives."

Many of the summit's local speakers were from the Somali American Task Force created to work with Luger's office on the pilot project. Luger, meanwhile, shared the stage with Hedieh Mirahmadi, whose Maryland-based World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE) developed one of the country's first Muslim-led de-radicalization initiatives.

Mirahmadi called for a national framework to address violent extremism, saying community-based approaches are largely undeveloped. She said a successful framework requires buy-in from local authorities and a range of cross-cultural stakeholders.

But according to Selim, "communities are in the driver seat" to determine what their prevention programs can look like.

"This is a really new frontier we're working on here," Selim said.

Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755

Twitter: @smontemayor