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Conference Focuses On Preventing Radicalization of Somali Youth

A recent conference in Columbus focused on preventing the radicalization of Somali youth. Officials said that has not been a problem in Columbus in the past and they want to make sure it does not happen in the future. The conference was sponsored by several groups including the Horn of Africa Rescue Committee and the Department of Homeland Security. The speakers at the event were a diverse group. Mussa Farah, the Horn of Africa President spoke to the audience first in the Somali language but the words radicalization and extremism were evident. Farah told the audience that Somali youth were the most important assets in their community. But he said, it was the responsibility of older adults to work, invest, advise and educate them so they become good leaders of tomorrow. "We are very proud to live in a country that respects and takes care of many religions and countries in the world," Farah said. "But we cannot take the safety and the security of our country for granted. As leaders of our community, the Somali community, we have the responsibility to engage the Somali American youth in an open discussion and strengthen the country's safety and security." The safety and security of the United States was the focus of a message brought by Rob Glenn from Ohio's Department of Homeland Security. "The fact that we are all here today tells us that we acknowledge a threat to our way of life and it's our way of life and it's the American way of life and the Ohio way of life," Glenn said. "Ohio and Columbus is no stranger to terrorism. We've had several of those who have been linked to Al Qaida and those who have engaged in terrorism but not from the Somali Community, not yet and hopefully that will never be the case." The three most prominent names in Columbus terrorism plots are Iyman Faris, Christopher Paul and Somali immigrant Nuradin Abdi. Abdi, who entered the U.S. illegally, was an adult when he plotted with others to blow up a Columbus shopping mall. Conference speakers stressed that intervention should begin while Somalis here are still in their teens. "We have seen young boys take up their arms in a false pretense of glory," Glenn said. "They're fighting for the creation of a revolutionary state that would seem to bring Islamic justice to the world. But I can tell you this, I do not want Columbus or any other Ohio city or any city in the United States to be a haven of violence and extremism of any type." Time at the conference was set aside for evening prayers but not before attendees heard from Pastor Emmanuel Inah of Columbus's Victory Church of God. "It's not just about Muslim but we have extreme views about Christian also," Inah said. "We have Christians that are radicals also. It's not about Muslim, it's about an extreme view of whatsoever that you believe, and sometimes it can carry you across borders to do things that are contrary to what God has really laid down for us." Pastor Inah quoted passages from the Bible and the Quran to make his point. He warned Somali young people to guard against the wrong sorts of outside influences. "I want to use this opportunity to encourage our youths to do not have this game played in your mind about what violence you can do in the name of God and you are going to profit anything," Inah said. Later, the audience heard from Isse Ali from the group Somali Unified Youth who explained the challenges facing Somali young people in the U.S. "Somali young males in particular suffer from negative stereotyping and frequently unwarranted police attention," Ali said. "Unemployment and poor housing are also seen as problems for the Somali community which also affects Somali youth as well through a lack of positive role models, poorer health and poverty and so on." Congressman Steve Stivers also addressed the conference. Stivers spoke about testimony that has taken place on Capitol Hill. "Before the House Homeland Security Committee there has been testimony by FBI agents talking about attempts by some to take advantage of the Somali community — not here but in Minneapolis — to attempt to radicalize especially the youth in the Somali community," Stivers said. "And we take that very serious here and we want to make sure that we take steps to prevent that from happening here." Ohio Homeland Security's Rob Glenn urged Somalis to contact law enforcement officials if they suspect terrorist activity is being plotted. "I would like to echo Rep. Stivers' plea that the door is open and it's up to you to engage with your government," Glenn said.