Six organizations that work with Somali youth in Minnesota have been awarded $300,000 in grants as part of a federal pilot project designed to combat terrorism, the nonprofit group that is administering the funds announced Thursday.
The society spent more than $450,000 to get approval of its site plan, the lawsuit says.
The suit charges that the defendants violated their rights to freely practice their religion and that they made arbitrary land-use decisions.
It seeks judicial orders to overturn the denial of the society’s application to develop the site, invalidate the restrictive sections of the zoning ordinance, appointment of a federal monitor and compensatory damages, among other things.
Marcus Pope, director of partnerships and external relations for Youthprise, the nonprofit administering the money, said investing in youth development is crucial. He said Minnesota is home to many creative and bright Somali youth, but many of them face “formidable challenges, including a sense of alienation, a search for identity as new immigrants, unemployment and poverty that can open them to recruitment by extremist groups.”
Boston and Los Angeles are also participating in the federal pilot project, which the Obama administration launched in late 2014 to stamp out violent extremism.
Minneapolis’ program, called Building Community Resilience, focuses on the state’s large Somali community, which has 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 militants in Syria.
Last month, U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said he was working on additional funding, both federal and private. He pointed to a bill President Barack Obama signed into law in December that includes $50 million for efforts that combat terrorism as a possible source. Luger noted that $10 million of that appropriation is specifically for states’ efforts to prevent violent extremism, though it’s not yet known how much of that money will flow to Minnesota.
In a parallel effort, Minnesota lawmakers have also allocated $250,000 to programs designed to combat terror recruiting. The Department of Public Safety announced last month that it will soon start the process of awarding grants, with priority given to programs that will lead to long-term investment in communities most at risk. Meanwhile, House Democrats have also announced that they’ll push for another $2 million to dedicate to combatting terrorism in Minnesota.