The sheriff of Hennepin County, Minn., told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security on Wednesday about the threat of Somali gangs in his jurisdiction.
“I have been asked to testify today about the specific emergence of Somali gang-related issues we are having in my county,” Rich Stanek said in his prepared testimony.
Stanek said Minnesota is a “designated U.S. Refugee Resettlement Area,” with a Somali population ranging from 80,000 to 125,000 in the state. As a result, Stanek said, while the African population in the U.S. as a whole is about four percent, 18 percent of the Minnesota population is African because of the large Somali presence.
Stanek said he wanted to “state for the record” that most Somalis are “law-abiding citizens” who contribute to the community, but those who have joined gangs are committing crimes across the state.
“Somali gangs are unique in that they are not necessarily based on the narcotics trade as are other traditional gangs,” Stanek said, adding that “turf” is also not a motivating factor in Somali gang criminal activities.
“Gang members will often congregate in certain areas, but commit their criminal acts elsewhere,” Stanek said. “Criminal acts are often done in a wide geographic area that stretches outside of the Twin Cities seven county metro area.
Stanek listed five “typical crimes” committed by Somali gang members, including credit card fraud, cell phone and gun store burglaries, and witness intimidation. The fifth type of criminal activity is tied to international terrorism, Stanek said.
“In 2007, the local Somali community started to report that some of the youth in the area had essentially disappeared without warning,” Stanek said. “It was later learned that 20 young men had left Minneapolis to travel to Somalia to receive training and fight as members of al- Shabaab.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the subcommittee, opened the hearing with statistics on the gang threat in the United States.
“According to the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment there are approximately 1.4 million gang members belonging to more than 33,000 gangs in the United States,” Sensenbrenner said. “It has been reported that the number of gang members in the U.S. has increased by 40 percent since 2009.”