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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Twenty years ago, Somali refugees left their country and came to America. And they ended up in a place that many immigrants have ended up over the past couple of centuries: the Midwest - specifically Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Today, the Twin Cities are home to the largest Somali community in America. And it is a community in turmoil. In the last year and a half, some young Somali men from Minneapolis have boarded planes back to Somalia and they're believed to have joined a terrorist group there. That's raising concerns in the United States. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Somalis first arrived in Minneapolis in the 1990s, fresh from refugee camps, trying to escape a civil war in their own country. The Lutheran Church sponsored the first 1,000 families and sent them to Minnesota. Hussein Samatar was an early arrival, and can't imagine why some of the community's young men have decided to return to Somalia.

Mr. HUSSEIN SAMATAR: We left that country fleeing from it, so we cannot even understand how a child, 17-year-old can go back and be willing to fight again.

TEMPLE-RASTON: For Samatar, this question is not academic. His own nephew left six months ago.

Mr. SAMATAR: We know that he is in Somalia. I'm aware of one very short phone call. He called his mom and said I'm fine. I am in Somalia. I'm not going to tell you where I'm at, but I'm fine. That is what we know.

TEMPLE-RASTON: FBI investigators have uncovered a bit more than that. They say there are recruiters for a Somali terrorist group called al-Shabab in the U.S. The Somali communities in Boston, Cleveland, San Diego and Seattle are also missing young Somalis. But nowhere have the numbers been as high as they have been in the Twin Cities, where up to 27 young men have vanished. And that, of course, raises the question: Why here?

(Soundbite of traffic)

TEMPLE-RASTON: The FBI has looked for some answers at a local school: Theodore Roosevelt High School. We visited earlier this year. It is a two-story brick building in the suburbs of Minneapolis nestled in a neighborhood of bungalows on a narrow strip of road. Slip inside, and the hallways echo with foreign languages, some smatterings of Spanish and French…

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: …and Somali. At one point in the late 1990s, Roosevelt had the largest concentration of Somali students in America. And one of them was a skinny 15-year-old named Shirwa Ahmed. He left Minneapolis for Somalia in 2007. He blew himself up in a suicide bombing last year. His remains are in an unmarked grave on the outskirts of town.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: New Somalis are arriving in Minneapolis all the time, and many begin their high school careers in a class like this one. It's essentially a Somali phonics class. A lot of the new Somali students are illiterate. So they basically sound out Somali words on the board, as first-graders might do in this country. As a result, they become isolated, even in their own high school.

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: The director of the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington, Michael Leiter, said in a recent speech that the Somali experience is unusual in this country.

Mr. MICHAEL LEITER (Director, National Counterterrorism Center): Our Muslim community in the United States tends to be much more integrated, much better off financially, much more engaged in the U.S. political system, much less isolated in pockets than, say, in countries like the United Kingdom. And that's the good news.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The bad news is that the isolation of the Somali community has made them vulnerable to radical ideas.

Mr. LEITER: We have seen a very, very small percentage who have come to identify with extremists in Somalia, be they al-Shabab or potentially elements of al-Qaida.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And in Minneapolis, that small percentage were convinced to go to Somalia and join the fight there. Parents in the Somali community, for their part, are soul-searching. They wish they'd kept a better eye on their kids, and instead of trying to get them to forget about Somalia, warn them about how dangerous it is there. Most of all, they're anxious for the FBI to tell them who is taking their children.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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