MINNEAPOLIS – A federal pilot program designed to combat terror recruiting among Somali youth in Minnesota is beginning to take shape and will include a mentorship program, youth leadership opportunities and other initiatives focused on steering at-risk young people down a positive track, U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said.
Luger spoke about the program's progress ahead of a Wednesday afternoon announcement, providing the most details yet about the effort, which the Justice Department unveiled a year ago. Similar programs are underway in Boston and Los Angeles.
He said Tuesday that the ideas being implemented in Minnesota are the product of months of meetings with religious and community leaders, government representatives, corporations and other private partners.
The program includes several elements. Among them, Big Brothers Big Sisters has developed a mentorship program for Somali youth, which is being funded by the Carlson Family Foundation, and Cargill Inc. is setting up a pilot youth leadership program.
"This is the right thing to do," Luger said. "This is what community members asked us to do, and in some ways, demanded we do."
Minnesota's program is focused on the state's large Somali community, which has been a target for terror recruiters; roughly 22 men left the state since 2007 to join al-Shabab in Somalia, and roughly a dozen people have left in recent years to join jihadist groups in Syria.
So far, more than $850,000 in public and private funding has been secured for countering terror recruiting in Minnesota, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. That includes $216,000 in federal funds for the pilot program, and $250,000 in state money that has been allocated for similar efforts. The private funding includes $250,000 from the owners of the Mall of America, Luger said.
A nonprofit group called Youthprise, which invests in opportunities for young people, will allocate money that's not already designated to a specific part of the program, leaving Luger's office out of the financial process. Wokie Weah, president of Youthprise, said she anticipates her organization will begin accepting requests for project proposals in January.
The pilot program — dubbed Countering Violent Extremism by the Justice Department but renamed Building Community Resilience in Minnesota — has been criticized in all three participating cities by some who said they would amount to government surveillance of Muslims. To address those concerns in Minnesota, Luger signed a memorandum of understanding in May that said the program would not be used to collect intelligence. His office also set up a Somali task force to lead the project.
"In my view, this is all the tip of the iceberg as to what is possible," Luger said Tuesday.
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