Members of Minnesota's Somali community condemned the recruitment of youth by terrorist groups overseas and urged collaboration to address the ongoing problem at a town hall meeting Sunday night.
Roughly 60 to 100 people attended the meeting at the Brian Coyle Community Center in Minneapolis as leaders called for an investment in the youths and the community to combat the radicalization of young Somalians.
Terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (often referred to as ISIL, the Islamic State or ISIS) and al-Shabab have recruited dozens fighters from Minnesota, according to reports. In the last few weeks, several men with Minnesota ties have died fighting for ISIS, which led the FBI to launch a pilot program in the Twin Cities to combat terror recruiting in the U.S. Boston and Los Angeles are also part of the program.
Leaders of the Somali community said there's a need to create an environment where Somalis and other immigrants feel welcome and have the chance to succeed so they're less vulnerable to radical messages, reports say. They called for an investment in education, after schools programs, mentorship by older members of the community and partnerships with law enforcement, the Star Tribune reports.
Ilhan Omar, an activist, spoke out at the meeting saying fighting the radicalization of youths shouldn't focus on children, but high school-aged people who are facing an identity crisis about what it means to be Somali, Muslim and an American, the newspaper says.
U.S. Attorney Andy Luger, who also spoke at Sunday's meeting, said he plans to take community members with him to a meeting about terrorist recruiting at the White House in October.
“I want the people in Washington who will be sitting around the table with me to hear your voices,” Luger said Sunday, according to The Associated Press. “We’re never ever going to stop asking, demanding and making changes."
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Mubashir Jeilani, 19, is president of the Cedar Riverside Youth Council (CRYC), which Mohamed Jama, 20, co-founded in 2007 to help fight terrorist recruiting, say the youth weren't well represented at the meeting, but hope their voices will be heard soon because they've experienced why their peers turn to terrorist groups, according to KARE 11.
"Our standard of living here is so bad that kids would rather join these terrorist organizations and go to their death," Jeilani told the station.
"The only way to combat ideology is with another ideology and that is: 'Hey, you graduated from high school, there are these opportunities for you. This is America, the land of the dream – take part of it," Jama told KARE 11.
The organization has a demonstration against terrorist recruitment efforts planned Tuesday. The group says the only way to influence and deter Somali youth from turning to terrorist organizations "is by investing in youth-led organizations," according to the CRYC Facebook page.