More than a dozen Somali and Twin Cities community and religious leaders stood shoulder to shoulder Monday evening, strongly condemning a new terrorist recruiting video as a “desperate attempt” to create hatred, divide Muslims and mainstream Americans, and incite young people into joining militant terror groups.
The 51-minute video, which lionizes three so-called “Minnesota martyrs,” is far “scarier” and more sophisticated than any other recruitment video that Twin Cities Somali leader Abdirizak Bihi has seen since his teenage nephew Burhan Hassan was killed in 2009 after being recruited to join a jihadist group in Somalia a year earlier.
The video seeks to create fear and to disenfranchise Somali-American young people, Bihi said. Along with Bihi’s nephew, the video features two other young men who left the Twin Cities and died after joining the militants’ fight: Farah Beledi and Jamal Bana.
A chunk of the video by the Somalia-based Al-Shabab militant group portrays the U.S. as a country with a long history of institutionalized racism — from slavery to the Ku Klux Klan to recent police killings of young blacks, said Bihi, who has watched the video many times. “The [video’s] message is that America oppresses, and it will never change,” Bihi said.
The video, which includes a clip of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump calling for Muslims to be banned from entering the U.S., presents radical Islam as the solution. But in a resounding show of strength, at least a half-dozen Twin Cities imams warned young people not to be lured by the propaganda and stressed to non-Muslims that the extremists don’t speak for Muslims or represent Islam.
“We reject the video’s message of exploiting the African-American civil rights movement in an attempt to create ethnic and religious divide in the United States,” said Abdisalam Adam, chairman of the Islamic Civic Society of America in Minneapolis. “We call on Muslim youth to reject the trap of being lured into or recruited by extremist groups like Al-Shabab. We call on the youth to be proud of their religious identity as an American-Muslim.”
Minnesota leads the nation in the number of people who have left or sought to leave the U.S. to fight for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, according to a September congressional report. Since April, federal prosecutors here have charged 10 young men from the Twin Cities Somali community with terrorism-related counts, accusing them of plotting to travel to Syria to join the group.
The Somali community has been working to stop militants from recruiting Twin Cities young people, Bihi said. Al-Shabab has become irrelevant in recent years, and this video is the group’s desperate attempt to change that, he said. But local imams, Somali leaders and parents moved quickly to counter the video’s propaganda, calling on Muslim young people to reject the trap of being lured by extremism.
In a message to non-Muslims, the Somali American Task Force and local Muslim leaders reiterated that “the safety and security of [the] United States is of paramount importance to Muslim/Somali-Americans and we are committed to be in the forefront of confronting extremism.”
“We will not join any group that will bring havoc upon this state and across the United States. We want you to look at us as your friends,” said Imam Mohammed Dukuly. “We may not pray the same way, but guess what? We work in the same places, we ride the same buses, we go to the same restaurants,” he said.
“The video is shocking,” said Imam Sharif Mohamed. “It’s sad because it is a reminder again to the parents who lost children [to the militants],” he said. “Propaganda can be very powerful. But that’s why the imams have to speak up and speak loudly. If we do that, the influence of this video will be minimal.”