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Nuuradiin Hussein arrived in Denmark at 18, alone and speaking not a word of Danish.

Today, in the harbor city of Aalborg, he is the face of Denmark’s much-debated soft approach to halting the departures of young people to Middle Eastern battlefields. He spearheaded a partnership among the city, police and mosques in Denmark’s fourth-largest city, which has seen only a couple of those departures.

A father of three, Hussein dispenses soft-spoken empathy — and firmly urges young people to take a no-excuses attitude. He invokes his experience as a Somali refugee determined to get a foothold in his adopted land, where college and health care are free, and returning foreign fighters get mentors, not jail time.

“If you come to Denmark at a young age or you’re born here,” he says, “you don’t have any excuses not to get a good life.”

For eight years, Hussein was a social worker in the immigrant neighborhood of East Aalborg, where he taught boys to handle conflict peacefully. But in 2010, a young Somali man whom Hussein once knew as a promising student tried to attack a Copenhagen cartoonist who had drawn the prophet Mohammed.

“That was really painful for me to hear,” Hussein said.

Then in 2013, a young woman who became engaged to a Syrian jihadist left with her brother for the Middle East. Hussein and others in Aalborg sprang to action. He persuaded local religious leaders to speak about radical recruitment with worshipers. He hosted open debates with high school students about politics and identity, challenging an us-vs.-Danish society mentality.

“He respects people, and he listens very well,” said Mai-Britt Iversen, an Aalborg city councilor.

Days after the 2015 Copenhagen shootings by a young Islamist radical, an Aalborg high school student made comments in class and on Facebook praising the attacker. The school reached out to Hussein. In a meeting with the student, Hussein listened patiently — he was just trying to get attention, the boy said — but stressed the comments were not OK. He assigned the teen a mentor and his parents a coach to help them repair the bond with their son.

Hussein kept in touch, too: “We have good conversations about being a good Muslim.”

Mila Koumpilova