-- The threat posed by ISIS has invaded the campaign ads and speeches all across the U.S., but the issue has had special resonance in Minnesota where an unusual number of people have left to join the terrorist group.
More than a dozen of the nearly 100 Americans believed to have joined ISIS, including several women, hail from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, according to federal authorities. Many are recruited from the area's large Somali population, but the recruits are not confined to Somalis.
Douglas McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, was also a Minnesota native. McCain's friend, Troy Kastigar, also died this year while fighting with ISIS.
Mike McFadden, the Republican Senate candidate in Minnesota, is aggressively seizing on the closer-to-home terror threat in his uphill quest to defeat Democrat Sen. Al Franken.
Hours after the release of the ISIS video showing the execution of American journalist Steven Sotloff on Sept. 2, McFadden blasted Franken for his support of the president’s “foreign policy blunders.”
He later said Franken was “asleep at the wheel” after the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported on a federal grand jury investigation of an attempt to convince 20 to 30 Somali men to leave Minnesota and join ISIS.
“This is a very, very serious issue, and it has not received the attention from Sen. Franken it deserves,” McFadden told ABC News. “We’re sitting here today six years after Sen. Franken and President Obama were elected, and the world is a more dangerous place.”
Franken, a Democrat running for a second term, wrote a letter to the Department of Justice on Sept. 4 asking Attorney General Eric Holder to address ISIS recruitment in Minnesota, which McFadden called “a day late and a dollar short.”
“Talk is cheap,” McFadden said. “Minnesota kids continue to be recruited. There has not been any policy put in place to stop this.”
Franken, who has a 13 point lead in the latest Star-Tribune poll, has largely ignored McFadden's campaign, but he responded to his opponent’s terror and recruitment attacks, calling them “just wrong.”
“This is something that’s been part of my focus for a long time,” Franken said. He added that he was briefed on recruitment by FBI officials when he took office, and has questioned federal officials on the subject in congressional hearings. Both candidates said they have discussed the issue with Somali community leaders.
The political debate over ISIS will likely intensify across the country as lawmakers on Capitol Hill will vote on whether to authorize the U.S. military’s training and equipping of Syrian rebels fighting against ISIS and the Assad regime.
In Minnesota, McFadden and Franken will trade barbs next in their Oct. 1 debate in Duluth.