Minneapolis Somalis Struggle With al-Shabab Link

Under scrutiny from the media and law enforcement, the Twin Cities' Somali expatriates try to raise their children safely in America.

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On most nice days, Burhan Mohumed is out on the fields next to the Brian Coyle Recreation Center watching over dozens of kids scrimmaging at soccer and basketball. The center, in the shadow of the Mall of America, is the heart of the Cedar-Riverside area of Minneapolis, home to the largest population of Somalis in America.

On this fine September evening, though, the kids are distracted, stumbling over one another. Stray balls go unchased. Jerseys get left on the field. Mohumed hardly notices. Like the kids, his attention is fixed on the television crews filming nearby. The reporters, gesturing to the children behind them, are talking about a terrorist attack at another mall, a half a world away in Nairobi, Kenya.

Mohumed, 23, is fighting a daily battle to save hundreds of kids from a life of drugs and gangs—never mind terrorist groups. But just as America’s national security officials constantly warn, dozens of thwarted terrorist attacks mean little when one succeeds. And for Mohumed, and the Somalis of Minneapolis, the Kenya attack has once again cast a shadow over their community.

On Sept. 19, terrorists besieged an upscale mall in Nairobi frequented by diplomats and the Kenyan elite. At least 70 were killed, a death toll likely to mount. Al-Shabab, a Somali terrorist group, claimed responsibility, demanding that Kenya remove its peacekeeping troops from Somalia. Within hours of the attack, rumors shot across the Internet that the terrorists included some Somali Americans from Minnesota. Minnesota has lost any where from 25 to 40 young men to al-Shabab in the past six years.

(MORE: U.K. ‘White Widow’ Wanted After Kenya Terror Attack)

In the days since the attack began, no link to the Minneapolis community has been confirmed. No families have come forward in Minneapolis to say their sons were involved in the attack. An initial list of names allegedly released by al-Shabab included three men from Minnesota but proved to be false. But Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed on Monday told PBS that “one or two” of the terrorists came from Minnesota, though the government has yet to identify these men and it’s unclear if she was speaking from knowledge or off of rumors. And on Tuesday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said intelligence had linked the attack to the Minneapolis Somalis.

Al-Shabab has a history of recruitment from this community—the largest, most successful terrorist radicalization of American immigrants ever. Al-Shabab’s efforts in Minnesota, which is home to more than 30,000 Somalis, began in 2007 after the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. The Ethiopians came in at the request of the transitional Somali government with the backing of the African Union and the U.S., but some Somalis viewed it as a hostile intervention in their country. Al-Shabab cast itself as a resistance organization.

Most in the first two waves of al-Shabab recruits were between 16 and 19. Nimco Ahmed, a young Somali community activist, knew many of the young men who left in the first wave to join al-Shabab. Amongst them were straight-A high school and college students. “We lost some of our best and brightest,” she says. “We feel doubly victimized, to lose our children and brothers to terrorism and to be painted as terrorists ourselves.”

(VIEWPOINT: America Should Fear Somali Terror)

Al-Shabab quickly went from resistance movement to terrorist organization. In October 2008, Shirwa Ahmed, 26, of Minneapolis became the first known American suicide bomber after he drove a car full of explosives into a government compound in northern Somalia. Despite al-Shabab’s increasing radicalization—in 2011 they joined al Qaeda—it still attracted a trickle of American recruits. From 2009 to current day between five and 10 Somali Americans from Minnesota have joined al-Shabab, according to Abdirizak Bihi, a community leader whose nephew was killed fighting for al-Shabab.

Almost all of the young men have been accounted for. Most died fighting in Somalia. Some are in prison. Only three are known to remain at large, according to Bob Fletcher, a former Ramsay County Sheriff who now runs the Center for Somalia History Studies: Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax, Mohamed Osman and Omar Ali Farah. Faarax is one of al-Shabab’s leaders, according to his 2011 indictment in absentia. He taunts Somali community leaders in Minneapolis on social media. Osman and Farah are troubling to the community: both left last July, showing that despite six year of FBI scrutiny, al-Shabab is still having some success recruiting in Minneapolis.

How are these young men still falling through the cracks? When they can’t find jobs, fail out of school and don’t feel accepted by mainstream America, they often find solace in mosques, community leaders say. Nearly a dozen of the al-Shabab recruits came from one mosque, the Abuubakar Islamic Center. In May, Mahamud Said Omar, a former janitor at the center, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for recruiting young men and sending them to Somalia for al-Shabab, amongst other terrorist activities.

Part of the blame also lies with the government, says Mohamed Farah, executive director of Ka Joog, a nonprofit that helps Somali youths in Minnesota. “The federal government made some promises earlier this year, but nothing has come of it,” Farah told TIME. “We get some arts funding from the State but nothing from Minneapolis. Our biggest problem is funding. No one becomes radicalized overnight. In order to stop al-Shabab we have to empower local entities like Ka Joog.”

Last year, Ka Joog engaged 10,000 Somali American kids. “Ninety-nine percent of Somalis here are good, law abiding people. There’s maybe 1% that are extremist, that are al-Shabab, and yet the whole community gets tainted by them,” Farah says. “If all people see of Somalis are terrorists and pirates, then all they’re going to think of when we go to job interviews, to school applications is, these are terrorists and pirates.”

(MORETerror in Nairobi: Behind al-Shabab’s War With Kenya)

The intense FBI scrutiny that has come with the al-Shabab link also hasn’t helped, says Omar Jamal, First Secretary at the Somali Mission to the UN who splits his time between Minneapolis and New York. “Putting pressure on the community can also break trust with a community, which creates a backlash,” Jamal says. “This, in turn, creates a haven for sleeper cells as no one in the community will report them. This is what has happened here in the last five years. They can attack anywhere. The Westgate mall, the Mall of America.”

In the wake of the Kenya attack, the Mall of America has upped its security. Back at the Brian Coyle Center, Ahmed says the mosques are making an effort to emphasize that the Koran forbids killing. “It’s not religious what al-Shabab does,” she says. She reminds Mohumed that there’s a vigil on Friday for the victims of the Nairobi attack. “I thought it was a protest,” says Mohumed, who spent years in a Kenya refugee camp before making it to the U.S.

“A protest?” replies Ahmed. “Who are we protesting here? Ourselves? No, the only thing we can do is show our support. And pray. For them and for us.”

MOREKenya’s Somali Population Fear Reprisals After Mall Attack

22 comments
#libtardedamerica
#libtardedamerica

"Part of the blame also lies with the government, says Mohamed Farah.."

of course, blame the government, blame america, blame everyone and everything except your cancerous religion and the fanatics within it. that's really going to go over well with the general public


BhindeshiTara
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KentThomson
KentThomson

I think you mean 'Mall of America Field' where the Vikings play, rather than the actual 'Mall of America'.

Openminded1
Openminded1

Immigrants entering the unites states today from the middle east and parts of Africa are not the same as from Europe. Italians, Germans, polls,Greeks and other European worked hard to become part of what was then the American dream and blended in. These mulsim religious fanatics just want to come here make money brainwash dumb ass liberals into believing that america and its people are the devil. they want to push their  koran bs on everyone and kill anyone who opposes their way of thinking and rule the world. Anyone who trust a muslim with their fake smiles and quiet demeanor is not only naive but very stupid.

bookbat
bookbat

Please, get at least a few facts straight! The Mall of America is in Bloomington, miles south of the Cedar-Riverside area of Minneapolis AND it's Ramsey county, not Ramsay!!!

pendragon05
pendragon05

The USA needs to shut its borders to all immigrants. Don't care where they are from. Should have been done IMMEDIATELY following 9-11.

mary.waterton
mary.waterton

That's the news from Minnesota ..................

Where all the women are strong.

All the men are effeminate,

and the IQ's are below average.

Leeny
Leeny

I disagree with the premise that these American Somalis were unaccepted in America. The immigrants of today are different than the immigrants of past days. America, up until now, has always been a melting pot because past immigrants "melted", integrated, learned the language and adopted our cultural norms. Our country has been built on the backs of past immigrants who gave back, accepted the responsibilities of citizenship, and made sure their children were raised as Americans first.

  When I listened to the interview with one of the Somali mothers of an American Somali who died in Somali, a light bulb went off.  Our newest immigrants, like this mother, are not given any responsibilities when they enter the US and so they do not realize their responsibilities. They simply move their culture, intact, from whatever country they have left behind. They are not required to learn English, or give back to their new country. 

However, more importantly, they do not realize that their dress, their cultural norms and their lack of blending in...set them apart from their neighbors and from being accepted in this country.  In my estimation, blaming the militant Islamists for brainwashing her son is only one piece "of the pie". Her own lack of adopting the cultural norms of her new country as displayed by her appearance and her inability to speak even broken English with the reporter who interviewed her, are but only a few hints and " red flags" about why her son felt more allegiance to Somali than he did to the country that had adopted him. No surprise here or with the Boston bombers also. Just interview the mothers to get an idea of where these individuals are coming from.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@bookbat no one really cares about the geography lessen , what matters is you have a hell of a lot of muslim morons in the greater Minneapolis area, who have decided to make American money but not blend in to the american society and try to push the koran and the muslim way of thinking on Americans. It is ok to embrace your culture, Italians, greeks, pollacks , russians, latins of all types, it goes on and on, but muslim only embrace there fanatical way of thinking, dressing and killing.

VindicatedWriter
VindicatedWriter

@pendragon05 and lost majority of our infrastructure and international good will? Both of which are key reasons why we are considered to be a "super power" country.

Bluhorizon
Bluhorizon

@Leeny I think you are incorrect in that Muslim immigrants maintain their cultural identity and isolation no matter where they go.  It is not an "American" thing. Furthermore, maintaining overt symbols one's previous country or religion is not an accident. Overtly isolating one's self from the community by wearing special clothes is actually not a refusal to "blend in."  It is a way of identifying one's self as a member of a group.  Orthodox Jews do the same thing but of course they also speak English and do not build bombs.

By distancing one's self from society as a whole one gains the inclusiveness of those from your group.  This is not to imply there is linear logic behind this. Clearly one would gain more by blending in, but that is new, strange and scary.  Not wearing the uniform invites criticism of elders and extremists. 

Muslim women who wear a head covering and veil in western society are not just doing it because they are obliged.  There is no obligation in the Koran or Hadith that they dress that way. There are many Muslim countries where women are free to dress as they wish but even there many wear clothes that identify and isolate them. It is a way of saying "I am part of this group." They do it as a way of inclusiveness in their group and exclusiveness from the others.  

bookbat
bookbat

@Openminded1 @bookbat Wow, I guess your name is an attempt at sarcasm! The Somali immigrants in the Twin Cities blend in just fine. We are an open and inclusive community who work hard to help immigrants from war torn countries make a new life here. Minnesota also has a large Hmong community. We also have an Orthodox Jewish presence, who, like the Somalis, dress differently and maintain their own religious customs, fit in quite well. By the way the "pollacks" as you so rudely refer to the Polish immigrants that helped build this city, still serve pierogi in Northeast Minneapolis, so I guess you would say they are pushing the "Polish way of thinking" on us?

Bluhorizon
Bluhorizon

@bookbat @Openminded1 The fact that people of so many other religions and cultures can come to America and peacefully blend in emphasizes the difference between them and Muslim immigrants. 

 Muslim immigrants generally do not assimilate anywhere, which is one of the reasons there is tension between them and the locals of the many countries.  It is one of the reasons the Royhinga in Burma are being attacked. They dress different, speak a different language and make no attempt to "blend in."  

Clearly the majority of all Muslims are peaceful but the small minority who become radicalized can cause damage far beyond their numbers.  Today the word "terrorist" has become a hyphenated word: Muslim-terrorist. 

Once in America all people are entitled to all the benefits and protections of the law but maybe America is better off severely limiting the number of Muslim immigrants.  Immigration law should not be based on the needs of the immigrants but on the needs are security of the nation. 

That may be politically incorrect but it is also legal and the single most effective way to protect the United States from terrorist attack and also from radicalized Muslims from using the US as a staging ground for terror elsewhere.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@bookbat @Openminded1 It is not an attempt at sarcasm, it is more in the realm of ironic. You can sell your line of bs to bleeding heart liberals,as for orthodox jews they like muslims only trust and like there own that is not fitting in that is just living there way no matter what people think or say about them. The polish immigrants are just proud of their heritage, they do not try to push anything on anyone. They also do not kill because someone does not agree with their religion which in most cases is catholic or jewish. do not attempt to compare yourselves to Italian, or polish,greek and any other immigrants from Europe, you are not even close. The Vietnamese are from a war torn country too, they have no problem blending in ,like most Asian. The may speak there native tongue as all immigrants do but they also have adapted to american and western dress and again do push whatever religion they have on to others, so as i said before many times any American that trust a muslim is very naive.

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