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New report assesses factors related to violent extremism among Somali-Americans in Minneapolis-St. Paul

Research finds three main risk factors, offers solutions

A new report published by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) identified three main risk factors that, when combined, increased the potential for violent extremism in Somali-American youth in Minneapolis-St. Paul: youth's unaccountable times and unobserved spaces; the perceived social legitimacy of violent extremism; and contact with recruiters or associates.

The new findings, based on fieldwork in a community that has experienced violent extremism, provide the groundwork for minimizing the potential for violent extremism in this community.

The researchers, Stevan Weine, professor of psychiatry at University of Illinois at Chicago, and Osman Ahmed, a community advocate, conducted an ethnographic study of the Somali-American community in Minneapolis-St. Paul. By listening to young people, parents and community service providers, the researchers discovered vulnerabilities to violent extremist recruitment and the community's capacities to mitigate these risks.

"Those risks and capacities are not just at an individual level, but at a family level, a community level, a structural level, a societal level, a global level, and they interact in complicated ways," Weine said. "We try to describe how all of those things fit together."

The report -- "Building Resilience to Violent Extremism Among Somali-Americans in Minneapolis-St. Paul" -- describes the interaction of the risks and capacities using a model called Diminishing Opportunities for Violent Extremism (DOVE). Developed by Weine and Ahmed, DOVE provides the community with strategies to build resilience to violent extremism. These strategies include encouraging family and community members to become more involved in the lives of the young people.

Weine said he hopes his research will help policymakers and government officials understand that while building resilience is important, "there's no one magic bullet for enhancing resilience," he said. He said that "communities, organizations, families, governments, working together" to address young peoples' needs will lead to the most helpful results.

Weine said that further research is needed to show if their model can be used to design effective preventive interventions with this community and whether it is applicable to other at-risk communities.

He also said that this research can provide a framework to help create programs and policies to inform communities. Weine said that using Internet-based resources to spread knowledge could prove to be a valuable, easily-accessed tool to build resilience. Working with elders, who are problem-solvers and widely respected in the communities, may also influence resilience. The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Human Factors/Behavioral Sciences Division, received two audiences within DHS in May, including practitioners and the interagency community.

Subsequently, John Cohen, principal deputy coordinator for counterterrorism, referenced the study in Congressional testimony submitted for the record.

For a summary of the report and findings, visit /publication/building-resilience-violent-extremism-among-somali-americans-minneapolis-stpaul.

To see the complete study, visit /publication/building-resilience-violent-extremism-among-somali-americans-minneapolis-stpaul.