Alleged links to Somalia fighting divide Minnesota community

Eid al-Adha
Worshippers gather in the Minneapolis Convention Center for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Many religious leaders and families are denouncing rumors that mosques in Minnesota were recruiting future terrorists to fight a holy war in Somalia.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

Khalifo Shali said she has heard the talk that her 21-year-old son joined the insurgents in his homeland.

While it is true Abdul Mohamud left St. Paul for Somalia last month, Shali said he went for medical reasons -- not to become a terrorist.

"My son is sick. He [will go] on a little vacation and maybe visit his family."

Shali said her son has struggled with bipolar disorder for years. With his doctor's blessing, she sent him to back his homeland for three months to visit relatives and seek traditional medicine.

Mahir Sherif
San Diego attorney Mahir Sherif defended his client, the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in Minneapolis, against rumors that it was recruiting men to fight in Somalia. He said the mosque does not engage in any political activity.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

Her husband, Dahir Guled, said rumors are feeding rumors in the Somali community about the missing men. And he's worried the allegations will forever damage his stepson's name, and maybe those of others who have gone back to their homeland for other reasons.

"People making allegations are a disease, actually. They spread rumors without proof," Guled said.

Their son attended a storefront mosque called Islamic Da'wah Center. Monday, on the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, worshippers said their prayers on a red carpet along rows marked by masking tape.

The mosque leader, Imam Hassan Mohamud, said the reports of missing men have put a cloud over the holiday. He had to postpone a big feast because he was busy answering calls and talking to other imams about the issue.

"They disrupted our Eid. People are living in fear instead of happiness."

Khalifo Shali
Khalifo Shali of St. Paul and her husband, Dahir Guled, says she's heard the talk that her 21-year-old son has gone to Somalia last month to fight. The couple says he actually went for medical reasons and will return in a couple of months.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

Mohamud has even heard of others accusing his mosque of recruiting and training men to fight overseas. He said that claim may have affected yesterday's fund-raising for the mosque, on a traditional day of giving.

"As a community, we have to be responsible. If there is any son that was sent to violence, we need to see the proof," Mohamud said.

Mohamud said many people travel between the United States and Somalia for business and work. Some parents even send their children back to their native country for a few months to escape the gang life and other urban ills of the Twin Cities.

The Somali community in Minnesota is hardly monolithic. They left a country torn by civil war, without a functional government in 17 years. And as Americans, they are still divided by the varying political opinions and tribal lines that defined their differences in their homeland.

The case of the missing men is just one example where politics are confusing the situation.

Omar Jamal helped organize the weekend news conference bringing attention to the missing men. He says through reports from family members, he knows of about 20 cases over the past two years, including six men who left Minneapolis on November 4.

"We believe those parents are not lying to us. We know for a fact that they're missing. We know they've gone to Somalia to fight," Jamal said.

Jamal thinks they were brainwashed by an unknown group who also financed their trips.

Those reports are apparently attracting attention from federal authorities. The FBI has not officially confirmed any investigation, but a spokesman told the Associated Press that the agency is aware of a number of Somali-American men who have gone to Somalia to "potentially fight for terrorist groups."

The Associated Press reports that one man from Minneapolis is believed to have killed himself and about 20 others in an Oct. 29 suicide bombing in northern Somalia.

Another spiritual leader defended his mosque against the rumors at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

In front of thousands who gathered to celebrate the holiday, Sheikh Abdirahman Ahmed held a news conference to dispel rumors that his mosque, Abubakar As-Saddique, recruited men to fight.

Ahmed was denied permission to board a plane last month to the Middle East for an annual pilgrimage. Ahmed's attorney, Mahir Sherif said Ahmed was apparently put on the federal no-fly list as a precautionary measure.

Some of the missing men attended the mosque.

"It appears to me, that the FBI took the ball, based on the rumors, and ran with it. In other words, put people on the no-fly, and [then engage] in the hard detective work of having to talk to people," Sherif said.

Murshid Barud, 28, of Eden Prairie said he hopes investigators can finish their work and put the unsubstantiated rumors aside.

"It's hard to understand the circumstances surrounding the missing men. It's really a mystery and hard to connect the dots as to what went wrong or what really happened," Barud said.

As families with baby strollers passed him by at the convention center, Barud said yesterday's holiday was mostly happy, but tinged with anger, fear, and old-world politics.

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