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Minneapolis' Plan Designed To Combat Recruiting By Radical Groups


And we're going to focus now on one of the pilot programs Scott mentioned there. It's the proposal for Minneapolis to prevent young people from joining terrorist groups. That city has a history. Dozens of young men from its Somali community have been recruited and traveled overseas. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston will have three stories this week on the problem of radicalization, and she begins in Minneapolis.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: About six years ago, I was standing right where I am now, at the base of the Riverside Plaza Towers, six public housing buildings that make up the heart of the Somali community in Minneapolis. Back then, I was reporting on the disappearance of some local Somalis. The FBI eventually discovered that they were leaving here to join the terrorist group called Al-Shabaab in Somalia. A grand jury's investigating a new recruitment effort. This time it's coming from the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and the group is proving to be effective.

ANDREW LUGER: My goal is to break this cycle of recruiting so that we're not back again in a few years with a new terror group preying on this community.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Andrew Luger, the United States attorney in Minnesota. And a new group is already praying on the community. The self-proclaimed Islamic State is recruiting here now, just a few years after more than two dozen young men went missing from the Twin Cities and ended up in Somalia. Luger wanted to understand why Somali youth are leaving again, so he went to the community to find out what can be done.

LUGER: And I asked the question, what is the way that the United States government can help you stop this recruiting and break the cycle? And this pilot program grows out of those conversations.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That pilot program is what Luger is supposed to unveil at the White House today. He did a last run-through of the presentation with community leaders in Minneapolis last week.

LUGER: Andrew Luger. Nice to see you.

TEMPLE-RASTON: There were about a hundred people in the room. Two imams were kneeling for afternoon prayers in the back. Officers from the Sheriff's office sat beside Somali youth leaders. FBI agents sat next to directors of nonprofit organizations.

LUGER: So the pilot program - people have asked a number of questions. One of the questions was, did Washington, D.C., tell you what this program was going to be?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Outside the meeting, Luger explained.

LUGER: The program we're developing is one that comes out of the community's requests. There's high unemployment in the Somali community in Minneapolis and St. Paul. There's a lack of mentors in the community for youth who may be at risk.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Young Somalis complain of feeling not quite American, but not quite Somali either, and that disconnect makes them vulnerable to terrorist recruiters. The driving idea behind countering violent extremism, or CVE, is to help young people feel more a part of their communities.

LUGER: Minneapolis Public Schools will be presenting. They're developing a school-parent intervention program that we're very excited about. One of the people who will present is a mental health professional and a mother in the community who has seen this firsthand, and she'll talk about that identity crisis that a lot of these young men and women face.

TEMPLE-RASTON: This list mirrors the programs community leaders told me they wanted when I was here six years ago covering Al-Shabaab's recruiting efforts, but those programs never got funded. Today's White House meeting might help them find the money now.

Still, critics say that CVE will end up stigmatizing the Somali community and reinforce the idea that American Muslims are the problem. What's more, the ACLU and the Minneapolis Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, say there's an inherent contradiction having a U.S. attorney in charge of community outreach. They say there's a risk that the new programs will become an excuse to spy on the neighborhood.

SIDIK ABDUL RAHMAN: There has been some mistakes in the past during the Al-Shabaab time. I think our community felt they were targeted.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Sidik Abdul Rahman. I met him in the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis. It's a warehouse with Somali arts and crafts set up next to gourmet coffees and organic fruits and vegetables.

RAHMAN: No one really investigated properly. Our worship places were targeted. Some people were making accusations in terms of kids being radicalized in the mosque.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Rahman is studying radicalization in Minneapolis and was asked to sit on the community board that helped develop the CVE program. He says he understands the criticism leveled against the programs, but he says they should be given the benefit of the doubt.

RAHMAN: Now is not the time to finger point. It's not a time to bring past. I think we should let the bygones be bygones.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's how many of the people in the Somali community have come out on this as well. They're balancing their distrust of law enforcement against something that worries them even more - terrorists, like ISIS, stealing their children. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.