MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Prosecutors and civic leaders from several U.S. cities will convene at a White House summit this week to discuss ways of countering violent extremism, eager to share ideas on how to shut off terrorist recruiting pipelines that have sent Western fighters to conflicts in the Middle East and Africa.
The U.S. attorney's offices from Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Boston will discuss the progress of pilot programs in those cities to stem the causes of radicalization, particularly in their immigrant populations, in hopes of breaking the recruiting cycle.
From Minnesota, which has struggled with the issue for much of the past decade, U.S. Attorney Andy Luger will lead a delegation of about 15 people, including law enforcement officials and Somali community leaders, to Wednesday's meeting.
Minnesota's program gets its formal launch next month. Luger told The Associated Press that key elements developed with Somali community leaders include more youth programming, more mentors, expanded job opportunities and job training, more dialogue between youth and religious leaders, and help affording college.
Luger said his office will also help develop "intervention models" to help parents, relatives and others step in if they suspect a loved one is susceptible to being recruited.
Luger promised regular updates on the pilot over the next year.
The U.S. attorneys' offices for Los Angeles and Boston have said less publicly about their programs, and declined to speak in detail about their programs ahead of the summit.
Overcoming distrust has been a challenge for federal officials. The Los Angeles program has drawn criticism from civil rights groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Haroon Manjlai, a spokesman for CAIR's Los Angeles chapter, said the group is worried that the program will infringe on Muslims' freedom of speech and religion and might hurt their public image.
CAIR's national office issued a statement ahead of the summit questioning the effectiveness of programs closely tied to a government that many Muslims don't trust. "Credible community voices who are not viewed as 'being in the government's pocket' are necessary," CAIR said.
The radicalization of Muslim youth has been a major concern in Minnesota, where more than 22 Somali men have gone to Somalia to fight for the radical group al-Shabab. Several others have gone or tried to go to Syria to fight for the Islamic State group.
Luger said some of the pilot project's work already has begun. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, with 2,000 jobs open across the country, has agreed to hold a series of job fairs to encourage local Somalis to apply. He said the first one already has been held and future events will include other agencies.
The delegation will include Mohamed Farah, executive director of a youth group known as Ka Joog, who said he plans to talk about some of the successes his group has had through its educational and arts programs. He said he'll talk about how to expand those efforts to reach more people across the state and nationwide.
"We have a model that works. We know this because ... they're the ones graduating and becoming a success," Farah said.
Abdisalam Adam, an imam who also teaches English as a second language at two St. Paul high schools, will also be attending the summit. He said he wants more assurances that the Minneapolis pilot won't be used for surveillance or intelligence-gathering on the Somali community, but said he's been encouraged by Luger's outreach since he became U.S. attorney last February.
"I don't realistically expect one high-profile meeting will be sufficient to address these issues but it's a starting point," Adam said. "A lot of work will have to come after the meeting."
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