US raid on Somalia: Al-Shabab recruitment puts Minneapolis-St. Paul's Somali community under scrutiny

theGRIO REPORT - The issue of al-Shabaab recruitment is not necessarily just a Somali problem, or a Muslim problem, or even a Minnesotan problem...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Reports are surfacing that the U.S. conducted raids over the weekend with the aim to take terrorists connected to al-Qaida into custody.

In the wake of the recent al-Shabaab attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, officials sought a high-profile member of al-Shabab, a group linked to al-Qaida.

There are conflicting reports concerning whether American citizens were involved in the planning and execution of the Nairobi incident. Many believe some of the Americans who allegedly participated were recruited from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota and its thriving Somali community.

This tragedy has reignited the world’s interest in a group still struggling to find its footing in a cultural landscape radically different from its origins. Over 8,000 miles separate the Twin Cities of Minnesota and the Horn of Africa. Yet, since the onset of Somalia’s bloody civil war in 1991, Minneapolis-St. Paul has become the unlikely home of the largest population of Somali refugees and immigrants in North America.

Somali-American youth: Facing tough challenges

Throughout the years Somalis have solidified themselves as a vibrant and indispensable part of Minnesotan society, but issues of poverty, profiling, gang violence and al-Shabaab recruitment still loom over the area, putting some Somali-American youth at risk.

“The first thing that happens is the culture shock,” says Mohamud Noor, executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota (CSCM). “But then it depends on you as an individual, if you are able to outgrow the culture shock, if you are able to adjust immediately, if you are able to integrate, if you are able to find a job.

“The first group that came here,” he adds, “that was the dream we were all trying to chase. To become successful in our lives.”

At 36, Noor has lived in Minnesota for more than 14 years. With the aid of local Catholic charities he was able to arrive in the area in 1999, immigration papers in hand, but little else to help him begin a new life. On Noor’s second day in America he came to the CSCM – sitting quietly in the same office he now runs – looking for advice on how he might obtain a driver’s license, a social security number, and a place to live. In the years that followed he graduated from college, started a family, and even ran for State Senate in 2011, finishing second in the primary with 26 percent of the votes.

Somali success stories, yet struggles continue

There have, indeed, been Somali success stories in Minnesota. Even in the last few months a Somali man named Abdi Warsame has emerged as a serious contender for a Minneapolis City Council seat. But Noor acknowledges that life for many of his neighbors continues to be mired by poverty and limited opportunity.

“We’ve been received very well. The main reason why Somalis come to Minnesota is because of the way we’ve been received by the community,” Noor further explains. “But at the same time, you’ve got individuals with a lack of skills, limited English, they haven’t had a good structure of education, and they end up staying in low poverty. That’s just the tradition in any immigrant community.”

It’s estimated that as many as 90,000 Somalis currently live in Minnesota, with roughly 35,000 inhabiting the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. For an outsider, a place like the Twin Cities – consistently one of the coldest major metropolitan areas in the U.S. during winter – might seem like an odd place for a booming Somali diaspora community. The idea of dozens of mosques and Somali restaurants sitting not far from the banks of the Mississippi River somehow doesn’t quite register with preconceived notions of Midwestern life. When war erupted in Somalia in the ’90s, however, Minnesotans were among the most aggressive in welcoming asylum-seekers to their state.