ISIL’s Recruitment of Foreign Fighters in the Twin Cities

The state of Minnesota is home to the largest population of Somali immigrants within the United States, numbering at over 40,000. Recently the FBI arrested six members of this community who were attempting to travel from San Diego to Syria with the hopes of joining the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

In December, the Department of Homeland Security estimated that over 100 U.S. citizens “had traveled or attempted travel to Syria to participate in the conflict.” This recent incident re-emphasizes the need to prevent U.S. citizens from (1) joining ISIL, and (2) returning to the U.S. with an American passport after having been indoctrinated in terrorist ideologies and tactics. Foreign Fighters: Terrorist Recruitment and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Programs in Minneapolis-St. Paul is a study performed by the University of Southern California’s National Center of Excellence for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE). The study focuses on what causes prospective recruits and ISIL to connect with one another, and how this process occurs. The information was gathered when the authors spent over ten days in St. Paul, MN “conducting 20 structured interviews, as well as 10 unstructured interviews” with over 30 sources.

Some of the key findings of the report include:

  • The authors dispute the common pre-conception that “poverty and lack of social mobility are primary causes for radicalization” in St. Paul. The report believes that the feeling of “cultural isolation” and discrimination ostracizes the Minnesota Somali population, which is predominantly black Muslim immigrants (which the community considers three strikes against them). The report documents several cases of recruitment where recruiters targeted particularly vulnerable individuals. Recruiters seek to establish a common ground by studying radical interpretations of Islam through a series of low-key meetings. The gatherings ultimately transform into discussing one’s role in jihad followed by recruitment.
  • According to the report, recruiters who previously sent Minnesota youths to Somalia to fight alongside Al Shabaab are now directing potential fighters to Syria. This information confirms that each individual group does not have its own set of recruiters, but that extremist recruiters direct potential fighters to militant groups that espouse like-minded ideologies.
  • Several initiatives exist in St. Paul to counter extremist ideas. One of these is the Average Mohamed website,  which uses cartoons to discredit radical Islamist ideas. The website was created and is run by Mohamed Ahmed, whose view is that “extremist ideology must be competed against. It only takes an average man to radicalize and recruit vulnerable young people, and it only takes an average man to offer a different, peaceful narrative.” There are also programs sponsored by President Obama’s intiative to Counter Violent Extremism.

For more resources on Foreign Fighters and Jihadism, visit the Homeland Security Digital Library (some resources may require HSDL login).



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