MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken said Thursday that he's happy to have the outlines of a plan to combat the threat of Islamic State militants but that he wonders what effect it will have on recruitment for the terror group, including in Minnesota communities.
Franken spoke to The Associated Press after national security officials briefed the Senate on the strategy, which President Barack Obama outlined the night before.
"Everybody in that room believes that this is a barbaric group that needs to be degraded and destroyed," Franken said.
Obama authorized airstrikes inside Syria for the first time Wednesday night, along with expanded strikes in Iraq. He also announced he's sending hundreds more U.S. troops to Iraq to help train security forces there and urged Congress to authorize a program to train and arm Syrian rebels who are fighting both the Islamic State militants and Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Franken said he was happy the president's strategy involves a coalition of international partners, saying the inclusion of Arab countries in the region was important.
Key Arab allies promised Thursday that they would "do their share" to fight Islamic State militants.
Still, he said that it's up to Congress to ask questions about the plan and that there will be more hearings on it next week. He questioned what will be done going forward to prevent recruitment and keep people who fought with the Islamic State from returning.
Authorities have said a handful of people are believed to have left Minnesota to join militants fighting against Assad's regime. At least one Minnesotan has died while fighting for the Islamic State.
The FBI is investigating, and a federal grand jury is looking into the recruitment and travels of Minnesotans who are believed to be in Syria.
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment, but some members of the Somali community have received grand jury subpoenas in recent days, said Omar Jamal, director of American Friends of Somalia.
Others received subpoenas dating back to at least June, according to local attorneys who received calls from people who have been subpoenaed. Peter Erlinder, one local attorney, said he represented someone who appeared before the grand jury in June.
Also Thursday, a local mosque released a statement saying it is concerned about young people disappearing from the community and it "vigorously opposes the recruitment of any persons to participate in violent or extremist activities."
The mosque, Al Farooq Youth and Family Center in Bloomington, released the statement in response to questions raised after mosque director Hyder Aziz had a man removed from the mosque in early June and banned from the premises. Aziz said a teacher reported the man, whom the AP is not naming because he has not been charged, after the man allegedly spoke about extremist views.
Police records show there were concerns about the man interacting with youth. Rick Hart, deputy police chief in Bloomington, said police referred the case to the FBI's joint terrorism task force.
Terror recruiting is something Minnesota has seen before: Since 2007, more than 22 young Somali-Americans have traveled to Somalia to take up arms with al-Shabab, an al-Qaida linked group. Those were all men. A fear in the new round of recruiting is that women are also being targeted.
Abdirizak Bihi, a member of the Somali community, said he knows of at least one family who believes their daughter has gone to Syria, and he's gotten similar calls from other families with the same fear.
"We have not confirmed anything as far as the sex of any individuals who have traveled," FBI spokesman Kyle Loven said. "We're concerned about all young people, not just young males."
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