Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is unveiling her plan to strengthen the nation’s defenses against terrorism with a speech in Minnesota, a state that has wrestled with recruiting for extremist groups for years.
The middle-American setting and the political timing are no accident. Fear of new attacks inspired by Islamic extremists is among voters’ top concerns. And Minnesota is home to the largest Somali population in the United States. The community is a target for terror networks — including al-Shabab in Somalia and, more recently, the Islamic State group, according to authorities and community members.
Clinton, who has been addressing the homeland security issue more forcefully in the wake of the deadly terror attacks in Paris and southern California, will announce her proposal Tuesday.
Her campaign said she would propose a comprehensive strategy to address every step in the process that could lead to an attack like the one that occurred in San Bernardino, including recruitment, training, planning and execution.
Clinton planned to point to local efforts in the Twin Cities as evidence that “America has what it takes to meet this challenge,” her campaign said.
Some in the Somali community said they welcome Clinton’s message, and hope she chooses her words carefully.
“The prevention or intervention of recruitments should be a top priority of any U.S. citizen of this country,” said Jibril Afyare, a spokesman for a Somali-American community task force. “We welcome her message.”
Authorities have said about a dozen Minnesota residents have traveled to Syria to join jihadist groups since late 2013, and several more have tried. Just last week, a ninth Minnesota man was arrested on a charge of conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State group. Since 2007, more than 22 young Somali men have traveled from Minnesota to Somalia to join the group al-Shabab.
Somalis in Minnesota have tried to stop the recruiting with strong antiterror messages and programs aimed at creating opportunities for the youth. Minneapolis is one of three cities participating in a Justice Department pilot program that seeks to combat terror recruiting by engaging young people in their communities. The Minneapolis program will include a mentorship program, youth leadership opportunities and other initiatives, with more than $850,000 in public and private funding secured so far.
Afyare, whose group is leading the Minneapolis pilot program, said it’s also important for Clinton to deliver a message of unity and reject divisive, inflammatory language that has singled out Muslims.
“We don’t want to brand actions of a few to be what our country is all about, what America is all about,” he said. “America is bigger than Donald Trump. America is bigger than hate. America is about welcoming immigrants.”
The ongoing federal investigations in Minnesota have left many Muslims, particularly those in the Somali community, feeling like they are being unfairly targeted. Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said terrorist recruiting is a sensitive issue in the state.
“This community has been identified to be the no-go zone. It’s been identified as an extremist community, a conservative community. It’s been identified as a hotbed for terrorism,” Hussein said.
“I think she should be very careful in choosing her words,” he added, saying Clinton shouldn’t use Minnesota’s Somali community as a scapegoat or paint the entire community as extremists.
Clinton has often said political leaders shouldn’t demonize Muslim Americans because they can help law enforcement in rooting out extremists.
“The vast majority of Muslims are on our side of the battle unless we drive them away,” Clinton said in a speech earlier this month in Washington. “Declaring war on Islam or demonizing the Muslim-American community is not only counter to our values, it plays right into the hands of terrorists.”
Clinton’s speech will be given at the University of Minnesota. A private fund-raiser will also be held in the state, which holds March 1 caucuses.