Minneapolis-St. Paul is one of three metro areas in the U.S. where a new Justice Department initiative will try to stem recruitment of Americans by overseas terrorist groups.
Andy Luger, the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, confirmed to the Associated Press Tuesday that the Twin Cities are among the sites chosen for the pilot program.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled the program on Monday. Holder says it will bring social and mental health workers together with religious leaders and law enforcement in hopes of detecting Americans prone to recruitment by radical groups.
Authorities say a handful of Minnesotans have been convinced to join militant groups fighting in Syria. The U.S. has confirmed that one former Twin Cities man, Douglas McCain (right), was killed on a Syrian battlefield last month while fighting with the group Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL.
Luger declined to tell the AP which other American cities are part of the pilot project. He says ending the recruitment requires building trust within groups such as Minnesota's large Somali community. Those efforts are already underway and Luger says they'll get a boost from the new federal initiative.
Recruitment under investigation
The Star Tribune reported this month that a grand jury in St. Paul spent the summer collecting information about a group of 20 to 30 Somali-Americans who were allegedly conspiring to join terrorist groups in Syria.
The newspaper says federal agents have struggled to build enough trust within the Twin Cities Muslim community to cut off the flow of recruits.
Reuters reports those recruits now appear to include young women as well as men. Abdirizak Bihi, a leader of the Twin Cities Somali community, tells the news service at least three families in the area have female relatives who are missing and may have tried to join Islamic State.
Those families , Reuters says, are separate from the case of a 19-year-old St. Paul woman who told her parents she was going to a bridal shower and instead boarded a plane to join Islamic State in Syria.
Bihi's nephew was recruited by the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab and died in that country in 2009. He tells Reuters those who recruit for such organizations use the element of surprise. "Now they have surprised us again by going for the girls," he says.