Monday’s federal charges against six Minneapolis men accused of conspiring to join Islamic extremists overseas spurred soul-searching and pledges for action across the Twin Cities — from the governor’s office in St. Paul to the campus of Minneapolis Community and Technical College, where four of the men were students.
Some wondered what they might have done differently in the run-up to the charges; Minnesota leaders vowed to do more to engage with the Somali community in their aftermath.
“I think we need to do a better job, all of us, in providing a lot of good reasons for young Somali youth to see their better future here in Minnesota,” Gov. Mark Dayton said in an interview.
On Sunday, the FBI arrested two Minneapolis men — Mohamed Abdihamid Farah and Abdirahman Yasin Daud — in San Diego, allegedly on their way to cross into Mexico and board a flight to the Middle East. Four others — Adnan Abdihamid Farah, Hanad Mustafe Musse, Guled Ali Omar and Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman — were arrested in the Twin Cities. Authorities say they had their own plans to travel to the Middle East and join the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
The six, ages 19 to 21, were charged Monday with conspiracy to aid and support a terrorist organization.
Apparently, the young men were friends. Some had attended South High School in Minneapolis together; four went on to attend MCTC, where they pursued majors from computer support to pre-nursing. One of them had an older brother who left Minnesota in 2007 to join Al-Shabab, the militant group in Somalia.
The four defendants arrested in the Twin Cities are slated to appear at a detention hearing Thursday morning in the U.S. Federal Building in St. Paul. Mohamed Farah and Daud will appear Friday morning at the federal courthouse in San Diego for a detention hearing. At an April 30 removal hearing in San Diego, U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Crawford will consider transferring the two men to Minnesota.
On Tuesday, Dayton said he and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith had met with U.S. Attorney Andy Luger on Sunday and discussed the arrests. He said he promised that his office would do more to reach out to Somali community leaders, promote Somali-American appointments to state leadership positions and explore ways to boost job opportunities for young Somalis.
“We pledged whatever assistance we could,” he said.
Hours after authorities announced the charges on Monday, a Minnesota House panel voted to boost state funding tenfold to combat terrorist recruitment in Minnesota. Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, offered an amendment that would raise Department of Public Safety funding earmarked to combat recruitment, to $250,000. Kahn said the money would support partnerships between community groups and government agencies to thwart recruitment efforts.
“We’ll be able to better understand the appeal and recruitment tools … and develop an effective response so more misguided youth aren’t tricked into becoming terrorists,” Kahn said in a statement.
‘This is really shocking’
Meanwhile, on the MCTC campus, Shavkat Metekov, until recently the president of the Muslim Student Association, said he wondered if the group could have done more to divert their fellow students from extremism.
Last academic year, the association hosted a weekly series of discussions about ISIL, which drew more than a dozen students to roundly condemn the group’s activities as un-Islamic. Metekov doesn’t believe the four men facing charges ever participated in those discussions or other association activities.
After hearing about the charges, Metekov said he felt the association should reach out to students on campus more actively.
“We definitely need to start having these conversations again,” he said. “This is really shocking.”
At the Karmel Square Mall in south Minneapolis, many Somali-Americans voiced dismay over the episode.
“They’re wrong — going to Syria to kill innocent people,” said Abdi Ali, who works at a money exchange.
Joining a violent group is wrong, agreed Sareedo Abdi, who owns Umu Dardaa, a second-floor shop that sells Somali tea, honey and other traditional items.
“The community doesn’t like it,” Abdi said. “Muslim religion is a peace religion. America gives us residence, health insurance, food stamps, school, jobs, opportunities for business. Why do they go to Syria? It’s no good.”