Minneapolis — The head of the Minneapolis FBI division says says the U.S. is seeing "a new era" of homegrown extremism, and it requires a different kind of response.
The work, Ralph Boelter says, is never easy.
For the past year, the agents he directs have investigated whether about 20 Somali-American men from Minnesotan went to Somalia to fight alongside a terrorist group. While chasing leads, they've tried to be methodical and sensitive about their every move, knowing that it's essential that the FBI doesn't end up alienating Somali-Americans, Boelter said. "You can potentially do more damage than good if you don't calculate your investigation, or calculate your steps carefully," said Boelter, the special agent in charge in Minneapolis. "Just like a surgeon who can do more damage during a surgery than good, we can also do that." In his first in-depth interview since authorities announced eight new indictments in the case last month, Boelter told MPR News that Somali-American community leaders need to more clearly denounce extremist ideology and offer what he calls a "counter perspective." Boelter recently met with several dozen young Somali-Americans to tell them their best chances of effecting change in war-torn Somalia is right here in the United States. So far, Boelter says he's proud of how the FBI has conducted its investigation. At 51, he's tall and lean with a touch of gray at his temples. Before coming to Minnesota, Boelter tackled violent crime and criminal enterprise in Los Angeles and Boston. Now he's at center of a case with national security implications. And he's the public face for an agency deeply mistrusted by many of Minnesota's Somali-Americans who feel under siege. He recognizes that some in the community might be skittish when approached by the FBI, but hopes they'll get past that. "They need to get over it," said Boelter. "We need to work on these problems readily, quickly, and move on. We will get the job done, whether we have cooperation or not. But it will take a lot longer if we do not have cooperation." When the FBI began its investigation about a year ago, agents approached young Somali-Americans at malls or at college campuses -- a tactic some community members didn't agree with. Over the summer, the FBI searched the homes of at least two women in support of the investigation; those women told MPR News they had done nothing wrong and were sending donations to displaced refugees fleeing the violence of Mogadishu. And religious leaders and volunteers at a Minneapolis mosque where most of the men worshiped say FBI agents have shown their pictures while conducting interviews. ..more..http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/12/16/fbi-somalis/