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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Preventing homegrown terrorism within the United States

This weekend’s terror attacks in Copenhagen, Denmark, are the latest in a string of violence targeting some of Europe’s largest cities. Those behind the attacks share a common thread — young, local Muslims who have been radicalized by events taking place thousands of miles away in the streets of Syria, Iraq and Libya. And while recent attacks have been carried out in other countries, U.S. law enforcement officials warn that American cities are targets as well. What worries them most is that, like in Europe, Canada and Australia, would-be perpetrators are likely citizens within the country. Thwarting homegrown extremism has quickly become one of the biggest priorities for counterterrorism agencies. So much so that this week, President Barack Obama will host a counterterrorism summit in Washington — the first of its kind — alongside other world leaders.
The Department of Homeland Security has estimated that at least 100 Americans have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS. Nearly a quarter of those men are from the Minneapolis area, which is home to about 100,000 Somali immigrants, the largest concentration of Somalis in the country. A majority of them are Muslim.
Since 2007, the FBI has been investigating the city’s Somali community in effort to better understand the reason that there is a growing number of men turning to radical Islam and, in particular, sympathizing with the Islamic State. Investigations like these have landed the city in the middle of a national debate as to whether Muslim communities within the U.S. are breeding grounds for extremism and so-called “no-go” zones, alleged communities where non-Muslims are not welcome and where Sharia takes precedence over federal law. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has warned of them, as has Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which is based in Washington, D.C. Perkins went on to specifically call out such areas in Minneapolis and Dearborn, Michigan.
In response, Minneapolis Rep. Keith Ellison, who also happens to be the country’s first Muslim elected to Congress, responded to Perkins’ comments, inviting him for a personal tour of one of the city’s Muslim communities.
While Perkins said he would take Ellison up on his offer when the weather is warmer, Yahoo News decided to visit and see for ourselves.
Along with Ellison, we spoke with leaders in the Somali Muslim community, including local business owners, religious leaders, women and college students. Among the topics discussed, we explored: why is there growing concern over radicalization within their communities, how are they responding and what does it mean for them to be Americans while not giving up their religious and cultural roots?

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