Why is ISIS recruiting young people in Minnesota?

On Wednesday, 7 young Minnesota men accused of attempting to join ISIS will appear in Federal Court before a judge who is expected to rule on a series of motions. The young men—all of Somali descent—were charged with conspiracy to provide material support and attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. None was over 21 years of age at the time of arrest.

As the case takes shape, a tangled web of terrorist operations in the U.S. has begun to unravel. The allegations brought against the young men have renewed discussion surrounding Minnesota’s ongoing terrorist recruiting problem, particularly among its Somali population—the largest Somali population in North America—that has struggled to keep extremist ideologies from preying on young members of its community.

According to an ongoing report from the Washington Post, a quarter of all people charged in the U.S. with alleged ties to ISIS hail from Minnesota, and most, if not all, are Somali-American, refugees or children of refugees who fled civil war in the early 90’s.

Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger acknowledged the problem his state has long faced. At a press conference following the arrests of the 6 men, he said “It’s not a Somali problem, it’s not an immigrant problem. It is our problem. It is a Minnesota problem.”

Last year, the Obama administration launched pilot programs in three U.S. cities to counter terrorism recruitment efforts. Los Angeles, Boston, and Minneapolis were chosen. Next to two major, cosmopolitan cities—and more likely targets for terrorists—Minneapolis looks out of place. But to those familiar with Minnesota’s past, the city was an obvious and necessary choice.

So what is it about Minnesota that makes the state a hotbed for terrorist activity? Why do Somali-Americans appear to be susceptible to extremist messages and ideologies? Fusion’s Dan Lieberman went to Minnesota to speak with community and religious leaders, and even young Somalis who experienced radicalization by their fellow peers, for some answers.

“Nobody was asking me to go back home and fight but…I feel like it would’ve led to that.”

ISIS in America part 1: Meet Fartun and Ahmed, two Somali-Americans living in Minnesota who were once on the path to radicalization; a community leader is singlehandedly combatting terrorist recruitment in his own backyard, and discusses why his community is vulnerable to extremism.


“Those people who, you know—in Iraq or in Syria or in Somalia—they don’t represent me. They don’t represent Islam.”

ISIS in America part 2: Fusion’s Dan Lieberman attempts to contact the parents of some of the young men who are in prison for alleged ties to ISIS; a religious leader proves the strongest force for counter-recruitment.