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Minnesotans focus on stopping terrorist recruitment at Hill hearing

WASHINGTON — The third in a series of controversial congressional hearings on Muslim radicalization in America focused squarely on the Twin Cities Somali community.

The House Homeland Security Committee and its chair, Peter King of New York, heard testimony Wednesday from four witnesses — two from Minnesota — on the issue of al-Shabaab recruitment in the United States. Al-Shabaab is a terrorist organization operating extensively in Somalia. It recruited more than 20 Somali men from Minneapolis to train with them between 2007 and 2009, and one of those men, Shirwa Ahmed, became a suicide bomber who died in Somalia in late 2008.

W. Anders Folk
leonard.com
W. Anders Folk

W. Anders Folk, a former assistant U.S. attorney for Minnesota and a former member of the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council, told the committee that despite a recent respite in known al-Shabaab recruiting, the organization still poses a risk to American communities like Minneapolis. Potential recruits, many of them young men, have their future “stolen from them by the rhetoric of al-Shabaab,” Folk said. “The same message coming from al-Shabaab has come from al-Qaida … They’ve adopting a training program and ideology similar to al-Qaida.”

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St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith
St. Paul Police
Chief Tom Smith

More than 45 officers participate in AIMCOP, a program that organizes events like youth sports programs and interacts with members of the African immigrant community, Smith said. The program has smoothed relations between the communities and the police department, so much so that it’s led to crime tips that have spurred federal investigations. One such investigation led to the indictment of several Minnesotans accused of sexually trafficking young women.

Rep. Peter King
REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Rep. Peter King

“Somalia … is a black box where you’re not able to track anyone,” he said. “The reality is that even in the best case scenario … we sometimes miss them. The potential is very scary.”

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Rep. Keith Ellison
Rep. Keith Ellison
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