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Government’s anti-extremism initiative divides Twin Cities’ Somali community

Leaders from the local Somali community are holding a press conference Tuesday to raise concerns about the government’s Countering Violent Extremism program. 

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the program stigmatizes the Muslim community.
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi

The Twin Cities’ Somali-American community and religious leaders are divided over an anti-terrorism initiative that aims to deter young Muslims from enlisting with the Islamic State and other violent extremist groups.

Even while a delegation of local officials heads to the White House for a Wednesday conference about the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, other local leaders plan to hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon to raise concerns about the same program. 

At the Tuesday news conference in Minneapolis, representatives from various mosques and Muslim organizations in the state will outline several recommendations on how they think the CVE pilot program would best serve the community. One of their key recommendations: that the program be independent from the influences of all law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the Department of Justice and the National Counterterrorism Center.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the program stigmatizes the Muslim community. “The Department of Homeland Security is not known to be providing funds to do after-school programs,” Hussein, who is organizing the press conference, told MinnPost last month. “There are other organizations that do that.”

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“We don’t want police, especially law enforcement agencies — we don’t want them to be doing after-school programs because their job is to investigate, their job is not to run after-school programs or to monitor after-school programs,” he continued.

Speculation about the program and consequences for those who participate in it have dominated the conversations within Minneapolis’ Somali community for weeks. Though the program expands social services for Somali-American youth, there are also fears that information collected from youth participants will be used for surveillance and investigation purposes.

Many in the community grew cautious after news reports about two law enforcement outreach programs in the Twin Cities were used to gather intelligence. U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, however, said that CVE will have nothing to do with surveillance gathering.   

Luger has recently reached out to Minnesota’s Somali activists, leaders and imams as he promoted the program in the community. He met with members of the Somali community publicly and privately to listen to accounts of the disappearances of some of the 15 Somali-Americans believed to have gone to Syria in recent months to join Islamic State, the terrorist organization.

On Wednesday, Luger is expected to unfold details of the plan for the initiative during the Countering Violent Extremism conference in Washington, D.C. Fifteen Twin Cities delegates will accompany Lugar to the conference, which is focused on seeking strategies to avert U.S. citizens from joining ISIS and other terrorist organizations.        

The delegates attending the conference include Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau; her St. Paul counterpart, Tom Smith; Rick Thornton, FBI Special Agent in Charge; Abdi Warsame, Minneapolis City Council Member; Rich Stanek, Hennepin County Sheriff; Abdisalam Adam, Minneapolis mosque leader; Mohamed and Abdi Farah, co-founders and leaders of Ka Joog.

Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at ihirsi@minnpost.com. Follow him on Twitter at @IHirsi