MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Members of Minnesota's large Somali community gathered Sunday to condemn the recruitment of youth by terrorist groups and urge collaboration to find solutions to address the problem.
About 100 people attended a town hall meeting to denounce groups such as the Islamic State and al-Shabab, which together have recruited more than two dozen fighters from Minnesota since 2007. U.S. Attorney Andy Luger told the crowd he's working hard to bring more resources to the community to address the root causes of the problem.
"I have two children and if somebody was recruiting my children to go overseas and die, I would want the people who were doing that to be caught and put in jail," Luger said. "My children are no more valuable than your children."
The Minneapolis-St. Paul area is part of a yearlong pilot program designed to engage vulnerable communities and stamp out terror recruiting in the U.S.
Luger said Sunday that Boston and Los Angeles will also participate in the program, which will focus more government resources on the issue. He said he will sit down with leaders in Washington next month to discuss solutions.
"I want the people in Washington who will be sitting around the table with me to hear your voices," he told Somali community members. "We're never ever going to stop asking, demanding and making changes," he added.
Luger told reporters the recruiters are sophisticated and they reach out to young people through websites and social media.
Organizers of Sunday's forum have long advocated for after-school programs and other activities to empower kids so they'll be less vulnerable to radical messages. Panel members acknowledged there is no simple solution to this complex problem.
They discussed the need for more educational opportunities, programs that are tailored to young men as they transition from their teen years to adulthood, mentoring, and the creation of a community center specifically for Somalis, where they can connect with one another. And many on the panel said now's the time to act.
"The longer we wait, the longer our silence will be used as a recruitment tool," said Ilhan Omar, one of the speakers.
Authorities in Minnesota are investigating how a handful of people were recruited to travel to Syria and take up arms with militants. At least one Minnesota man has died, and some families fear their daughters have gone overseas to join the cause.
Luger said earlier this month that it would be hard to quantify whether more people are being recruited in Minnesota than elsewhere, but that the state's large Somali population is a natural target.
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