Leaders from Minnesota law enforcement, Islam and elective politics on Wednesday condemned suggestions by Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump that the United States crack down on Muslim communities in the aftermath of this week’s bombings in Brussels.
Their objections ranged from practical to constitutional to concern that the rancor would further stigmatize an entire community.
“It absolutely sabotages and destroys our efforts to fight radicalism,” said Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali community leader who has led local efforts to mute extremism. “It breeds more fear and more of the isolation that we’ve been trying to fight.”
Meanwhile, top federal and local law enforcement officials have planned a meeting Thursday to discuss the recent terror attacks with local imams and other Muslim leaders. The state’s top federal prosecutor, the Hennepin County sheriff and the senior local FBI agent are among those expected to attend.
“We will not allow fear or hatred to bring harm to those who may appear to be targets of convenience at this difficult time,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said in a statement.
In broadcast interviews Wednesday, Cruz doubled down on earlier comments that authorities should be able to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized” — a revival of a controversial post-9/11 program since shuttered by the New York Police Department.
GOP front-runner Trump has also called for harsher interrogation techniques and a ban on refugees from countries where the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has a presence. Pressed on his remarks Wednesday, Cruz told a CBS reporter that Minnesota’s Muslim community was an example of where law enforcement efforts could be concentrated.
The remarks drew a stern response from Minnesota, home to the country’s largest Somali-American community.
Jaylani Hussein, director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said targeting Muslim communities would undermine safety by wasting law enforcement resources. “We know that’s not where the threat is coming from,” Hussein said. “It’s coming from individuals and extremists from all communities.”
Mohamed Farah, director of the nonprofit Ka Joog, said he was “shocked and saddened” by the remarks. Earlier Wednesday Ka Joog issued a statement condemning both the Brussels attacks and “the bigotry of the Republican presidential candidates.”
“This is a time to cultivate relationships because the American Muslim community is already facing a lot of things,” Farah said. “They’re first to condemn such acts. Their religion is being hijacked.”
Minnesota drew international attention after a spate of local Somali-Americans fled in the mid-2000s to fight for the terror group Al-Shabab in Somalia, and again when the U.S. attorney’s office charged 10 young Twin Cities Somali-American men with conspiring to travel to Syria and fight for ISIL. Five defendants are scheduled to stand trial in May.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek called Cruz “misinformed,” saying that existing community outreach efforts since the first wave of Al-Shabab recruits “work just fine.”
Daniel Koehler, a German academic who has been invited by U.S. District Judge Michael Davis to evaluate four defendants who have pleaded guilty, said Wednesday that he sees no benefits from a policing crackdown.
“It won’t have any counterterrorism effect,” Koehler said in an e-mail. “It will criminalize the communities and does in fact support the radicals’ agenda by proving to them that Muslims are treated as terrorists in general.”
Minneapolis is the site for one of three U.S. Department of Justice pilot projects that attempt to defuse radicalism by engaging young people in the city’s sizable Somali community. The local initiative — which recently awarded $300,000 to six community groups — has prompted both warm and critical responses. Hussein has argued that such efforts paint an entire community as suspects. But supporters and critics found common ground over the Republican candidates’ proposals.
“This type of rhetoric gets directly to what terrorists want: They want to divide us and create fear among us,” Hussein said.
Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame said Cruz sounded like a politician trying to “out-Trump Trump.” Most Minnesota Muslims, he pointed out, hold jobs and mainstream views, and some have served — or died serving — in the U.S. military.
“It’s a modern-day racism,” he said. “… you’re attacking a faith, a world faith of more than 1.6 billion people.”
Staff writers Erin Golden and Maya Rao contributed to this report.
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755