Super Bowl LII may have gone off without a hitch on Sunday, but that didn’t mean that came without a cost. Far from it, actually.
According to the U.K. Daily Mail, the security operation at this year’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis was the largest in the contest’s history, in part due to a large Somali community in the Minnesota city that has seen numerous terror arrests in recent years.
The event had a Level 1 “special event assessment rating” by the Department of Homeland Security, which wasn’t unusual given the nature of the event.
What was unusual was the level of security. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2,000 officers from Minnesota and 1,700 federal officials worked the game. Black Hawk helicopters and jet fighters circled overhead, ready to act at a moment’s notice.
Part of the issue is that the stadium is located near the Little Mogadishu neighborhood in Minneapolis, where 50,000 individuals of Somalian descent live.
“The Super Bowl is great, but there is an anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim mood in this country. A lot of people are coming,” Abdirizak Bihi, director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center, told Reuters. Other members of the community also expressed displeasure at the idea that the perceived terror threat was foregrounded so heavily.
However, there are reasons for concern. As NBC News notes, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area has seen the third largest number of terror prosecutions of any major metropolitan area, right after New York and Washington D.C.
Twelve individuals have been prosecuted for giving support to the Islamic State group, and a further 20 have been arrested for links to Somali terror group al Shabab in the past nine years alone. Another 13 locals died while fighting abroad for those groups between 2011 and 2014, U.S. intelligence officials say. The Somali terrorist group Al Shabab has gone so far as to make a video called “Minnesota’s Martyrs: The Path to Paradise,” featuring a local who died in Syria telling potential recruits that fighting for the Islamic State group abroad was “like Disneyland.”
Joe Rivers, the FBI’s assistant special agent in charge of the Minneapolis office, says that the city’s history played a part in the added security, which saw 200 extra agents being brought in to help secure the city.
“It’s impossible for us to ignore the historical cases that we’ve had here and the type of threats … that we’ve addressed,” Rivers said, according to the Daily Mail.
— CBP (@CBP) January 30, 2018
Part of the issue is the residential streets and sidewalks in the vicinity of the stadium, which make it more susceptible to the kind of small-scale vehicle or knife attacks that the Islamic State group has frequently called for.
“Not to alarm anyone, but it’s not hard to come by weapons in this country and with where our venues are located and things like that, there’s no way we can possibly secure every single floor of every single building that can see a venue or can overlook a crowd, so those are concerns, yes,” Rivers said.
Thankfully, everything turned out OK, and it looks like the only arrests we’ll hear about at this year’s Super Bowl will probably involve well-served Philadelphia fans celebrating their victory. This, I suppose, is a credit to both the security forces and the community, which Reuters noted was “eager to dispel negative views and show football fans that the community is hard-working and friendly.”
Still, the security was a reminder that while there was always an especial danger surrounding the Super Bowl, it was more acute this year, in part due to a city which has seen an unusual number of terror recruits in recent years.
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