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Ties with terrorism hits close to home

It is not unusual to hear of Minnesotans with ties to terrorists in the Mideast. For whatever reason, Minnesota leads the nation in the number of youth that are being recruited by ISIL and other terrorist cells.
But we were all stunned last week when it was announced that a Glencoe man, Abdul Ali-Skelton, was being charged in federal court with lying to the FBI about his alleged communications with terrorists in Syria.
And we were even more stunned when Ali-Skelton was arrested Sunday for allegedly making threats to kill people in a Brooklyn Park Walgreens.
Other than his previous police record, which contains minor traffic, parking and drug charges, we cannot find out much about Ali-Skelton.
Nor is there any indication on how, if charges are true, he came into contact with terrorists in Syria.
As stories about terrorist connections with Minnesota unfold, we are learning a lot about those who are “recruited” into ISIL and other cells.
Like so many youths who join gangs, are recruited by sex traffickers and are lured by drug dealers, these are young adults who have a sense of disconnectedness. They have weak family ties, and are struggling to find their place in their communities. They are looking for a surrogate family and a community that will give them a sense of belonging, a purpose to their lives.
That is typically what we do quite well in America. This land of opportunity is particularly opportunistic for our youth. There is a myriad of programs — from 4-H to sports to a huge host of clubs and extracurricular activities — that can help our young people grow, learn and find their places in the world.
Unfortunately, most of the programs end with high school graduation or shortly thereafter. Research tells that the human brain — particularly for young men — doesn’t reach its full maturity until the mid to late 20s. Many young people make poor choices in that gap between high school and the time they finally “settle down” and become productive members of society.
So how do we prevent these young people from being recruited — whether it be by gangs, terrorists, sex traffickers or drug dealers?
We need to work at the issue from both sides. One side is to eliminate gangs, sex trafficking, terrorists, etc.
The other is to take a hard look at ourselves and our society, and try to figure out how to make our youth feel they belong, feel they are connected to their families, feel they are part of their communities, during that gap between high school and that time in their 20s when they finally mature.
The solutions are not easily come by, the battle not easily won. But for the sake of our young adults, we must continue seeking the solution, we must continue to fight the battle.