Terrorist Recruitment and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Programs in Minneapolis-St. Paul – April 2015


The report authors spent 10 days in Minneapolis-St. Paul over the course of three visits. During these visits, the report authors spoke with more than 30 sources, conducting 20 structured interviews, as well as 10 unstructured interviews. The report authors also spent substantial time within the Somali-American community, visiting areas and establishments with a largely Somali demographic and engaging in impromptu conversations with a diverse cross-section of community members.

The study was submitted to University of Southern California’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) for an exempt status review. Exempt review indicates that the research involves the use of educational tests that (1) do not collect identifier information from participants, and (2) do not collect any information that would put the participant at risk. The study was approved for exemption in February 2015.

In line with the IRB exempt status, sources’ identifier information was not collected. Each source was assigned a number, and the only identifying characteristics that were recorded were the sources’ age and gender. Structured interviews were digitally recorded with the sources’ permission. The audio from these interviews was transcribed, yielding 440 pages of transcripts and hundreds of pages of handwritten notes.

This study used a grounded theory approach to qualitative data analysis, which is designed to assess intensive field research with qualitative data. This research uses an iterative analysis strategy that codes patterns in qualitative data to describe categories and typologies, leading to the creation of various model outputs. In this study, the researchers used MAXQDA 11 software to manage the large amounts of interview transcript data through the application of grounded theory methods.

The data analysis began with a complete reading of interview transcripts by the research team. The initial reading produced a set of categories that corresponded with the initial set of research questions: why is foreign fighter recruitment occurring and what programs are proving effective in halting it? In addition, categories were developed from the experiential items shared by the interviewees during interview discussions. The complete set of categories contributed to the development of a coding scheme with a total of 73 codes. As a result of source demographic and identifier information not being collected, the moderating effects of these factors were not explored in this study.

A critical component of the analysis process was the establishment of intercoder reliability. Multiple reviewers were involved in assessing the 73 codes. The percent agreement between reviewers was calculated and adjustments made (primarily through consensus changes) until all coders achieved 85% agreement. The coders also met to discuss emerging topics, resolve challenges, and to refine coding strategies by consensus to ensure optimality. Finally, through pattern coding, the analysis formed typologies (e.g., of different types of community program validation) and delineated the components of the models developed in this study. The findings were reviewed by the entire team to allow for discussion of potential additional analyses, to check for contrary evidence, and to ultimately lay the groundwork for reporting.

Concurrent with fieldwork and content analysis, researchers conducted a literature review of academic and media sources examining the Somali-American community in Minnesota and the threat of radicalization and recruitment. Information from this research effort is paired with the fieldwork findings and qualitative data analysis, yielding a multifaceted picture of the foreign fighter recruitment activity in the Twin Cities and how community stakeholders are responding. Read the next section.

Report Sections