Building Resilience to Violent Extremism Among Somali-Americans in Minneapolis-St. Paul


Project Details


The project (formally Violent Radicalization and Terrorist Recruitment in Somali-Americans) seeks to address the problem of violent radicalization and terrorist recruitment amongst members of a specific Muslim diaspora community in the United States.  It focuses on Somali Americans in Minnesota and St. Paul and the roles of risk and protective processes at different levels (individual, family, socio-cultural, and structural) that impact violent radicalization and recruitment.

This study aims to: 

1) Examine Somali American young adult males, family members, and service providers, so as to characterize the potentially modifiable multilevel risk and protective factors that impact radicalization and recruitment;

2) Engage community advocates (parents, community advocates, providers, and policymakers) so as to develop socially and culturally appropriate strategies for preventing violent radicalization and terrorist recruitment.

For a summary of the report and findings, click here.

To read or download the complete study, click here.

Primary Findings:

No one risk factor explained involvement in violent extremism.  Rather it was the interaction of multiple risk factors at the peer, family, community, global, state, and societal levels.  These risk factors combined to create an opportunity structure for violent extremism with three levels of opportunity:  1) youth’s unaccountable times and unobserved spaces; 2) the perceived social legitimacy of violent extremism; and 3) contact with recruiters or associates.  Involvement in violent extremism depended on the presence of all three, with decreasing proportions of adolescent boys and young men exposed to the latter two. 

Efforts to increase resilience should involve strengthening protective resources or what are called opportunity-reducing capacities.  Furthermore, family and youth, community, and government can help to strengthen protective resources at each of the three levels of opportunity. Priorities include diminishing 1) youth’s unaccountable times and unobserved spaces; 2) the perceived social legitimacy of violent extremism; and 3) the potential for contacts with terrorist recruiters or associates.

Building community resilience to violent extremism should be approached through community collaboration and capacity building. Interventions may involve government, community, and families working collaboratively to improve each other’s capacities. Shared goals could be to 1) collaboratively strengthen families; 2) develop community support for families and youth; and 3) adopt new governmental strategies for community support and protection.

One way to determine priority areas for prevention might include identifying protective resources with the greatest potential for addressing multiple risk factors.  Collaborations between government, community, and families and youth can then be built to enhance these capacities. Based on the current study, promising preventive interventions in the Somali-American community in Minneapolis-St. Paul might include 1) building a web-based resource that includes information and training about risks and safeguards for use by youth, parents, and community service providers; 2) providing Somali youth and young adults with opportunities for service in their community and humanitarian and peace work, thus creating alternative ways for youth to channel their passion for Somalia; and 3) providing logistical support and training to elders and critical voices in the community and on the web.


This study involved ethnographic data collection in the Somali-American community in Minneapolis St.-Paul including youth (n=19), parents (n=18), and providers (n=20). This study utilized a grounded theory approach to qualitative data analysis using Atlas/ti software after establishing coder reliability. Findings were affirmed through team consensus and reviewed by community members.


Project Period: