Muslim groups speak against anti-terror program

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Some of Minnesota's largest mosques and Muslim community organizations have come out strongly against a federal pilot program intended to prevent radicalization in the Somali-American community.

Nearly 50 Muslim organizations, in a statement released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Minnesota, said they are opposing the program because it combines "policing and counter-terrorism efforts with social services and outreach targeting only one religious and ethnic community."

The pilot program is spearheaded by the Justice Department and Andrew Luger, U.S. attorney for Minnesota. It calls for bolstering after-school and tutoring programs in hope of fostering a sense of belonging for young Somali-Americans.

A group called the Somali-American Task Force is charged with implementing the pilot project.

"The Somali-American Task Force has been working diligently to secure corporate, foundation, and government funding for programs designed to provide services to the Somali-Minnesotan community, a group we all agree is vastly underserved," said Ben Petok, a spokesman for Luger.

The Muslim groups are wary that the government might use the outreach efforts to gather intelligence.

"Counter-terrorism work of the last several years has wrongfully stigmatized our communities, through the use of surveillance, informants, and other targeting of Muslim communities not connected to any suspected wrongdoing," the group said in a statement.

Jaylani Hussein, a Somali-American who leads the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the community organizations are aware of the need to do more to stop young men from joining terrorist organizations. But he added they are not convinced that the pilot program is the most effective way to help the community.

"The majority of the Muslim community organizations believe that we need to work with the law enforcement in a way that doesn't stigmatize and label us as the only threat," he said.

The groups that signed the statement are calling on the government to support a new task force "that is being developed to serve as a united outreach effort to law enforcement agencies."

Some of the mosques and organizations that signed the statement include Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center; Global Somali Diaspora; Islamic Center of Minnesota; Al Farooq Youth & Family Center; Minnesota Da'wah Institute, and Al-Ihsan Islamic Center.

Abdulaziz Sugule, of Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, said he's not sure how the pilot program would help the community.

"It's obvious that we have some concerns about this pilot program," Sugule said. "We're asking for more information."

Meanwhile, a group of Somali and East African community activists published an op-ed piece expressing concerns about the pilot program.

"The purpose of the Department of Justice is to prosecute people — not to deliver social and human services," the group wrote on MinnPost. "We need our community organizations and local institutions to be independent of law enforcement bodies."

Ramla Bile, one of the writers of the article, said the government has kept the pilot program vague, and suggested that "everything is happening behind closed doors."

Bile said the community does not know who serves on the 15-member task force that Luger has formed to implement the program.

"This has public ramifications, so that information should be shared," Bile said.

"How do we even have a conversation when we don't know who is on this task force?" she asked. "If they are representing the community, then I feel like they need to open themselves up to the community, they need to listen to the community, they need to engage the community."