What Has Happened to Minneapolis?
When I lived in Minneapolis, it was a welcoming town filled with hardworking, honest people with family values. Braving extreme heat, politicians attended the State Fair, shook hands, kissed babies, and ate walleyed pike. We used to stroll around Lake Minnetonka and talk about the local news, how many mosquitos were biting, and how the Minnesota Twins baseball team fared that year. Minnesotans made me feel like family and welcomed me for a home-cooked meal. But according to former FBI agent John Guandolo, life in the Twin Cities is not what it used to be.
Terror struck Minneapolis following a 911 call by Justine Damond, an Australian bride-to-be who was trying to be a good Samaritan by reporting a possible sexual assault. Apparently, the policeman who responded, Somali-American Mohamed Noor, shot Damond to death when she appeared at the window of his car. The facts have yet to be explained by Minneapolis police, who are investigating the July 15 tragedy. But it is evident that some citizens fear backlash against the Minnesota Somali community. It seems that the police officer was not a terrorist, and he is said to be a good citizen who made a serious, tragic mistake. The problem in many communities is an enduring fear of terrorism that unleashes frantic emotions, whether warranted or not.
Tensions are high all around the U.S. as terrorist attacks continue to consume the news. Now Minneapolis is home to the largest number of Somalis in the U.S., with over 125,000 immigrants. Some native Minnesotans are worried about the violence in their community, and emotions run high in some neighborhoods.
Somalis in Minnesota mosques were stirred up when al-Shabaab (affiliated with al-Qaeda) claimed responsibility for the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya – perhaps creating an opening for Islamist recruiters. The largest number of Islamic jihadi fighters in the U.S. left to fight for al-Shabaab in Somalia shortly thereafter.
"We Have a Terrorist Recruiting Problem."
The issue of terrorists in Minnesota has not gone unnoticed. Andrew M. Luger, the U.S. attorney for Minneapolis, spoke about a case against al-Shabaab: "We have a terrorist recruiting problem. We are willing to recognize it and we want to solve it." Luger described the problem as "decentralized" and "widespread." He continued, "To be clear: This case demonstrates how difficult it is to put an end to recruiting here. Parents and loved ones should know that there is not one master recruiter organizing in the Somali community locally. What this case shows is that the person radicalizing your son, your brother, your friend, may not be a stranger. It may be their best friend right here in town."
Since that time, the father of Yusef Jama, a man who left Minnesota to join ISIS in June of 2014, testified. It was an emotional moment for all parents in the courtroom. "He talked about having lost his son to al-Shabaab and now another to ISIS. At the end of his testimony, he took the exhibit in his hand – a picture of his son, Yusef Jama, who is dead – and he asked the judge if he could take it with him. He needed a picture of his son. Neither I, nor the people who worked on this case at the FBI or my office, ever want a parent to go through that again."
One way to ensure that outcome is to educate the public.
"Terrorists Are Preying on the Youth in Minnesota."
The Center for the American Experiment explains that Minnesota spends more money per low-income individual on public welfare than any other state in the U.S. The State Department contracts with charities in Minnesota such as Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, and World Relief Minnesota to assist Somali refugees with housing and English training. Somalis choose Minnesota for the state assistance and the established Somali community.
While there are many Somalis who choose to open restaurants, drive taxis, become entrepreneurs, and assimilate into Minnesota society, simultaneously, many are exposed to radical Islamic extremism. This phenomenon is cause for concern for residents of Minnesota.
State Leaders Must Stop the Jihadi Network
Since my departure from the Twin Cities, the Cedar Riverside neighborhood has been nicknamed "Little Mogadishu" because of the enormous growth of Somalis. Downtown Minneapolis has become home to at least 29 Islamic centers and mosques.
Little Mogadishu in Minneapolis
If I still lived in Minnesota, I would ask state leaders for help in stemming the Islamic jihadi network there. Governor Mark Dayton publicly told Minnesota citizens at the Muslim Brotherhood's Muslim America Society (MAS) that "if they do not like the growing Muslim Somali population in Minnesota, they can leave [St. Cloud]." Congressman Keith Ellison represents the 5th District and is the first Muslim congressman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Ellison is known for his support of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan. Known by some in Washington, D.C. as a man who tries to silence criticism of jihad and radical Islamism, does Ellison represent his constituency?
Do Americans understand the effects of radical Islamism in their neighborhoods? Many Somali teens are struggling. The U.S. attorney's office created outreach and mentorship programs, jobs, and community events. Still, living in an unfamiliar place with barriers such as the language, climate, culture, goals, and belief system creates a climate of anxiety, frustration, loneliness, and anger – all prominent elements to radicalization.
Minnesota Somalis radicalize not only because they don't have a job or an after-school program. The biggest problem is recruiters who convince young adults that fighting the infidel (unbelievers) will bring them closer to Allah.
Teen Programs Are Not Enough: The Radical Ideology Must Be Addressed
Jihadi rappers sing, "Call on Allah and never retreat / Make our feet firm, Satan's plan is weak / Islam is our faith, jihad is the peak / The best of our end's to be a shahid." Addressing this type of propaganda is the most important part of solving the terrorism problem in Minnesota. No matter how many outreach programs, after-school events, and job fairs, without understanding and curtailing the root of terrorism, the radical ideology, and sharia law (Islamic law), the problem will continue to grow.
Minnesota recruits are growing steadily as communities, perhaps unknowingly welcoming organizations such as Hamas, the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and Muslim Student Associations (MSA). Up to 80% of national MSA chapters on college campuses are demonstrating radical beliefs, according to attorney David Yerushalmi.
Young adults under the jihadi influence are becoming more sophisticated at hiding their radical intentions from their families and local authorities. Terrorists in the U.S. are hidden in plain sight. Without a drastic change in policy, ideological jihadi battle zones will continue to grow on American soil. The focus for government officials must shift to locating the terrorist cells forming inside our homeland and recognizing that Minnesota is not alone.
Valerie Greenfeld is the author of Backyard Caliphate: Radicalization in Your Neighborhood. She can be reached on her blog at backyardcaliphate.weebly.com.