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Gang Affiliation and Radicalization to Violent Extremism Within Somali-American Communities

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2019
13 pages

This is the Draft Final Summary Overview of a research project that examined the degree to which radicalization to violent extremism and gang involvement are related among Somali-American youth, as well as potential divergences or convergences in these phenomena.


Somali communities in North America provide a unique and important context for examining issues of gang affiliation and radicalization to violent extremism within a population that has had an unusually high base rate of exposure to psychosocial circumstances related to these problems. The circumstances include discrimination, the challenge of developing a social identity while being involved in acculturation, and the potential for feeling alienated from the dominant social context. In examining the intersection of radicalization to violent extremism and gang affiliation, the focus was on two stages: 1) pre-radicalization within a general ethnic Somali population; and 2) known radicalization, which consisted of case studies of Somali youth who had left Minneapolis to allegedly join extremist groups with gang features. In addition, changes in radicalization to violent extremism over time were analyzed. Programming to counter violent extremism in the Somali immigrant population was also addressed. Participants in the quantitative portion of the study were 520 Somali youth (ages 18-30 at initial interview) in five North American cities. They were interviewed at four time points over 6 years as part of a longitudinal study. The project drew on both previously collected and new datasets. Overall, the study found that radicalization to violent extremism was viewed by participants as a remote and irrelevant issue in the Somali community. Participants distanced themselves from the experience of radicalization to violent extremism and from those who participated in radical behaviors or held radical beliefs. Gang involvement, on the other hand, was viewed as a major problem for Somali communities. 2 tables and 7 references

Date Published: September 1, 2019