Haji Yusuf, a local advocate and host of Somali Radio, said the Somali community is in shock.
But Yusuf said the problem isn’t new. “The world and the media have ignored the terrible things Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab have been doing to Somalis for years. Al Shabaab is not a Somali problem alone now. It is a global problem.”
Yusuf called Al Shabaab a terrorist group that targets the weak. He and other community members worry that Somali youth are left vulnerable.
Mohamoud Mohamed, who works with Somali refugees daily through the St. Cloud Area Somali Salvation Organization (SASSO), said, “Single mothers come to America with their children to give them a better life. But they can’t afford to take them camping, to take them to restaurants, to the theatre, or to sports games. They end up living life as the lowest of the low.”
Yusuf and Mohamed say the challenges these young people face as immigrants put them at risk of being picked up by terrorist organizations promising them a better life.
“Most of these kids encounter discrimination every day,” said Yusuf. “This is an opening for an evil person to come in and say, ‘See what they’re doing? We have a better option for you.’”
It appears Al Shabaab is trying to enlist youth in its organization with a recruitment video it uploaded to YouTube last month. The video, called “The Path to Paradise,” references “Minnesota’s Martyrs,” which suggests that some Minnesotans have already joined up.
“Those brainwashed, poor children,” said Mohamed, “stolen from us and destroyed by those cruel, cruel terrorist-minded people.”
One member of Al Shabaab who appeared in the recruitment video called his experience “the real Disneyland,” describing how much fun he was having.
“These are people who cannot find people to do their evil deeds,” Yusuf said. “They’re drawing a rosy picture of what’s going on.”
The big question for Yusuf and Mohamed: Is Al Shabaab recruiting youth in St. Cloud? They don’t think so.
“The Somalis are against Al Shabaab. They know it is a terrorist organization,” said Yusuf.
Mohamed said he believes St. Cloud has remained safe from Al Shabaab influence because of strong community bonds and religious leadership.
“We need to close the doors and make sure Somali youth are engaged and kept safe,” Yusuf said.
Mohamed runs numerous after-school sports and tutoring programs through SASSO to try to keep youth away from Al Shabaab influence.
“They are doing their homework. Most of them are very good students who graduate and go on to higher education,” but he said resources are tight.
Mohamed said local programs need more funding to keep Somali youth engaged in the community.
“We can’t do everything. Our wheels are moving, but we are limited. We want more resources for more activities to reach every student. [These programs] are saving the lives of thousands of children.”