In the third controversial congressional hearing on Muslim extremism Wednesday, Chair Peter King pointed directly at Minneapolis connections to al-Shabaab as a threat to United States security, although no Minnesota Somali-Americans were invited to testify.
In his opening statement, King said al-Shabaab should not be viewed as a threat to only Somalia: ”With al-Shabaab’s large cadre of American jihadis and unquestionable ties to al-Qaeda, particularly its alliance with AQAP, we must face the reality that al-Shabaab is a growing threat to our homeland.”
More than 20 Somali-Americans from Minneapolis have been recruited to al-Shabaab in recent years, according to law enforcement. King pointed to a guilty plea by an al-Shabaab recruiter and a very public scuffle in the state’s largest mosque as evidence that “jihadi sympathizers” are active in the Minneapolis community.
No Somali-American Minneapolis residents were called to testify. The only speaker of Somali descent was Ahmed Hussen, president of the Canadian Somali Congress, who said there has been contact between Minneapolis extremists and members of the community in Canada.
William Anders Folk, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, charted the rise of the al-Shabaab in the hearing. In response to a question from King, Folk said al-Shabaab could represent a similar threat to the United States as al-Qaeda. Folk said the best way to combat extremism is to teach Somali-Americans about their civil rights and law enforcement techniques.
King’s hearings have been controversial. An MPR piece on the earlier hearings described how the hearings alienated the local Somali community.
In a statement this afternoon, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison said radicalization and terrorism threaten national security, but that the hearings were undermining hard-won trust between local Somali-Americans and law enforcement agencies.
“[B]y stereotyping the broader Somali community, we risk losing the trust of our strongest allies in the fight against violent extremism,” Ellison said. “Policymakers and law enforcement officials must work in partnership with Somali-Americans to combat terrorist organizations like al-Shabaab.”