Targeted programs could stop terror recruitment

City and neighborhood leaders are working to boost resources for Cedar-Riverside youth.

Ethan Nelson

After months of scrutiny surrounding terrorist organizations’ recruitment in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, residents and city leaders are calling for more community resources and youth programs.

Local policymakers say they’re working to provide more services in the area, but some residents say neighborhood groups are already doing the best they can to combat youth isolation with their limited funds.

The FBI collected information in June about Cedar-Riverside residents who may be at risk of leaving the country to fight overseas.

Ward 6 City Councilman Abdi Warsame, who represents part of Cedar-Riverside, said he’s currently in talks with local politicians about supporting current educational and athletics programs in the area and creating new ones.

“They need to be tailor-made,” he said. “The solution isn’t to throw money at [the neighborhood].”

Warsame said he advocates for hiring more East African police officers and firefighters, a policy he said would provide jobs for Cedar-Riverside residents.

The city should also support local community colleges and trade schools to create opportunities for neighborhood residents, he said.

Warsame said the city, the county, the state and local groups need to work together to address underlying problems.

“The question is, ‘How do we get all the organizations working together?’” said Phil Kelly, executive director of the West Bank Community Coalition. “Right now, we’re not all working together.”

The Brian Coyle Center, a community gathering place for Cedar-Riverside residents, already has youth programs designed to give middle-school- and high-school-aged students business experience.

But some community servants say more needs to be done.

“We don’t have adequate services,” said Mohamed Jama, general director of the Cedar Riverside Youth Council. “These are very ambitious kids. They want to get college preparedness, but most fall through the cracks.”

Some people who come from war-torn areas may have missed a few years of school, and they might not be able to compete with other students, Coyle Center director Amano Dube said.

“There’s no way they can think about high school, so they have identity crises,” he said. “When kids don’t have meaningful opportunities, they end up doing whatever makes them feel like, ‘This is my place.’”

That place may be among terrorist organizations, Dube said, though he stressed that most Cedar-Riverside residents know nothing about recruitment in the area.

Most people in the area hear about recruitment from the media, he said, not from each other. Dube hadn’t heard of any tangible evidence that people in the area have left to fight for terrorist organizations.

Although there’s an existing push to offer more resources for youth in the neighborhood, some organizations say they don’t have enough funding to succeed.

A new grant from the Minnesota Vikings will implement the Cedar-Riverside Explorers program, which connects young people with local colleges for on-campus programs and events.

Student from those colleges and other organizations are also participating in the Match Up Teen Program, a new service that will start this month, pairing high school students with university tutors.

But because of a lack of continued funding, Jama said the area’s programs often fizzle out.

Though he’s optimistic about most youth programs, Jama said, he sees many that exist for only a month or so before they run out of resources.

It’s a common problem for the neighborhood, Dube said, adding that the Brian Coyle Center mostly relies on private donations and volunteers.

“Compared to the density of the population of kids, our resources are limited,” he said.

The Coyle Center serves more than 300 K-12 students every year, he said.

Dube said youth programs will work in the short term, but long-term economic development will make the ultimate difference.

Employment, leadership opportunities and a stable home will help prevent radicalization and terrorist recruitment, he said.

“If you do all that,” Dube said, “nobody will think about shooting each other or leaving the country to commit crimes against humanity.”