- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - At dinners with imams, meetings with youth and even large community forums, Minnesota’s U.S. attorney kept asking members of the state’s Somali community the same question: What could he do to stop terrorist recruiting that had already lured dozens of young men and women overseas?

Andy Luger listened for months. Then, he went to Minnesota’s corporate community to get some help.

The businesses and private foundations that stepped up are now playing a big role in a federal pilot venture aimed at countering terrorism, committing nearly $400,000 and joining efforts such as mentoring or leadership programs designed to make Somali young people less vulnerable to the terrorist message. While Minnesota corporations have a long history of philanthropy, their willingness to invest in this endeavor shows just how seriously they are taking the issue.

Of the entities getting involved, perhaps none is more striking than Mall of America, the massive shopping complex that has long been seen as a symbolic target and was mentioned in at least one video in which the narrator called for it to be attacked. The mall is putting an undisclosed amount of money toward the project, and spokesman Dan Jasper acknowledged that public safety is one reason why.

“It is our obligation and duty to do everything we can each and every day to ensure the safety of everyone at Mall of America,” Jasper said. “We dedicate an enormous amount of resources to accomplish that goal and we will never lose sight of this responsibility.”

The Minneapolis area is home to the largest concentration of Somali immigrants in the U.S., and they’ve been a target for terrorism recruiters: More than 22 men have left the state since 2007 to join al-Shabab in Somalia, and roughly a dozen people have left in recent years to join jihadist groups in Syria. In addition to wanting to stem that flow, authorities are concerned that someone could be influenced to carry out an attack in the U.S., such as the one in June outside an anti-Islam event in Garland, Texas.

Experts say the problem is so big and hard to fix that the government, law enforcement and non-governmental organizations can’t do it alone.

“For this Somali community, the resources haven’t been there for the longest time,” said Jibril Afyare, a member of the Somali-American task force leading the pilot. “We’re delighted there is recognition that this community needs the help to prevent any of our youth from going away.”

“Businesses need to be at the table and play a role,” said Myles Shaver, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. He said businesses see this as “both attacking an issue in their community and wanting to be part of a solution.”

Private entities have so far committed $390,000 to the pilot project, exceeding the $216,000 from the federal government. The state of Minnesota has also allocated $250,000 to similar efforts. The private dollars include the money from the Mall of America and $140,000 from the Carlson Family Foundation, a nonprofit started by the founder of Carlson, a Minnesota-based global travel and hotel company.

Part of Carlson’s contribution will go to Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities to help start a mentoring program focusing on Somali youth, said David Nelson, executive director of the foundation.

Cargill Inc. is also getting involved. Tola Oyewole, director of the Cargill Foundation, said the organization is considering expanding its existing global leadership program - offered to college students in six countries - to Minneapolis high schools. The idea, still being developed, would be a test.

Minneapolis’ efforts in the business world are ahead of two other cities in the pilot program, Boston and Los Angeles.

Boston hasn’t announced any funding beyond the $216,000 from the federal government, and officials haven’t mentioned any corporate involvement. In Los Angeles, officials are trying to forge connections with Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

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Associated Press writers Tami Abdollah in Los Angeles and Philip Marcelo in Boston contributed to this report.

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Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/amyforliti

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