The father of a young Twin Cities man who admitted planning to join the terrorist group ISIS in Syria will address Somali-American community members Thursday evening.
Yusuf Abdurahman, whose son Zacharia pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to enlist with ISIS, will be a guest speaker at a community-led discussion on the threat of terrorist recruitment.
The forum is the brainchild of Mohamed Ahmed, a Minneapolis father of four and gas station manager who has been on the front lines of fighting youth radicalization — through cartoons.
Ahmed created a website, AverageMohamed.com, featuring animated clips with anti-extremist messages aimed at kids. He also frequents schools and mosques to urge peace and understanding.
Many parents have nowhere to go if they suspect their children are flirting with radical ideology, he said.
"We've not shaped up a response system to deal with kids who are on a path to radicalization," Ahmed said. "We're reaching the community, but in terms of active intervention, we do not have a plan in place in Minnesota."
One of the only options for concerned parents is to call law enforcement, and some Somali-American leaders say there must be a community-based alternative.
Ahmed, a member of the Somali-American Task Force that has been working with U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, said he'd like to set up a hotline offering mental health services and other resources.
He's also a proponent of creating community-intervention teams — imams, therapists, social workers and others — who could be a resource for families or friends losing their loved ones to extremist activity.
But efforts to get those initiatives off the ground have been tricky. Even though Ahmed envisions the hotline to work independently of law enforcement, there's a risk that parents will blame community volunteers if federal authorities end up arresting their children, he said. Government approaches to countering violent extremism have faced intense criticism from young community members who say the programs single out Muslims.
Ahmed has applied for federal Department of Homeland Security grants to expand the reach of Average Mohamed.
Nine Twin Cities men who pleaded guilty, or who were found guilty, of conspiring to join ISIS will be sentenced in federal court next month.
At Thursday's event, the father of Zacharia Abdurahman is expected to share how a young man who seemed an unlikely candidate for terror recruitment could have slipped down a radical path.
The father's story shows how parents are often left in the dark, Ahmed said.
"The kid was a good kid — performed well in school, did his job, was a good Muslim. But internally, there was something going on, whereby the kid was getting radicalized," he said of Zacharia Abdurahman. "The father was lamenting the fact that he had no resources. But more importantly, he just didn't know."
If you go
What: Somali Community Discussion: Our Children's Future
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Capitol Cafe, 2417 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
Panel Attendees: Somali-American father Yusuf Abdurahman, social activist Abdirizak Bihi, Mohamed Ahmed of Average Mohamed, Farhio Khalif of Voice of East African Women