MINNEAPOLIS — The takeover of a Kenyan shopping mall by the terrorist organization al-Shabab is shining an unwelcome spotlight on Minnesota's Somali community, which has been tied in the past to terrorism and Islamic extremism.
Home to the largest Somali community in the U.S., the Twin Cities have been a recruiting ground for al-Shabab, the al-Qaida-linked extremist Islamic group that has taken responsibility for carrying out the attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
Minnesota Somali leaders on Monday moved quickly to distance the community from the attacks, while awaiting word on the possibility that recruits from the state may once again be involved in violent terrorist activities overseas.
Kyle Loven, a spokesman for the FBI in Minnesota, said the local office's investigation into recruitment of Somali Americans into al-Shabab remains active. He added that the local office is monitoring the situation in Nairobi.
At an news conference, several Somali religious leaders sought to address any potential suspicions of a local connection.
"The safety and security of the United States is of utmost importance to Somali-Americans and we are committed to be in the forefront of defeating extremism," said Abdisalam Adam, an Imam of the Islamic Civic Society of America.
They called on Muslim youth to reject recruitment by extremist groups, and for religious leaders to preach about the dangers of extremist ideologies.
"This kind of activity, killing innocent people, has no base or any relationship with Islam," said Abdirizak Hashi, an imam at Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in Minneapolis.
In what the FBI has said is one of the largest efforts to recruit Americans to a foreign terrorist group, at least 20 men have left Minnesota since 2007 to join the organization. Two have died as suicide bombers.
A federal judge this year sentenced four men to prison for helping recruit young men in Minnesota to travel to Somalia and fight for the militant group.