Mosque leaders deny they recruited youth to fight

News conference
Abdirashid Abdi, left, a member of the board of directors of the Abubakar Assadique Islamic Center, speaks to reporters about allegations the mosque had something to do with the disappearance of Somali boys in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Bob Collins

Leaders and friends of a Minneapolis mosque Tuesday denied any connection to the recent disappearances of young Somali men from the Twin Cities.

Family members of the missing men have questioned whether the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque was involved in recruiting Somali-American to fight alongside a radical Islamic group, Al-Shabaab, in east Africa.

Abdirashid Abdi is a former director of the mosque and is a current board member. Abdi said his mosque does not tolerate extremist ideologies.

"We strongly deny these unsubstantiated allegations," Abdi said. "Abubakar did not recruit, finance, or otherwise facilitate the disappearances of those young men."

He said allegations appear to be coming from individuals within the local Somali community.

At least three of the missing men frequented Abubakar, but supporters of the mosque said the men also attended other local Islamic centers. Religious leaders said they share the grief of the families of the missing, and they have welcomed any questions from law-enforcement agencies.

Abdulahi Farah
Abdulahi Farah is a volunteer youth coordinator who was stopped, along with the mosque's leader, last fall while trying to board a flight to Saudi Arabia for their annual pilgrimage.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

But so far, Abdi said the FBI hasn't approached any of the mosque leaders. At least one young woman who attends the mosque, however, said she was questioned by the FBI as part of an investigation into missing men.

Samiya Ahmed, 21, said an agent first showed up at her south Minneapolis home last fall and showed her pictures of young Somali men. Ahmed said she was asked if she recognized any of the individuals.

Ahmed said authorities questioned her again, on the day before President Obama's inauguration. They wanted to know if she knew about any planned attacks on the festivities.

"I wanted to tell them at that moment, I voted for Obama," Amhed said. "Why would I vote for him if I wanted to plan something against him? And what kind of authority do I have to plan something? I'm just a college student."

The FBI hasn't officially confirmed an investigation.

Abdi, the former mosque director, said one of the reasons for holding the press conference was to address the new dimensions the story has taken. He said he was particularly concerned about rumors that al-Shabaab would carry out an attack in the United States. Abdi said no one he knows in the Twin Cities Somali community would stand for that.

"This is our new home. As community and religious leaders of the Somali community, we assure that we would never, ever permit anything that would jeopardize the security -- local or national -- of this country," he said.

For the first time today, Abdulahi Farah spoke publicly about the effect the controversy is having on young Muslims in the Twin Cities. Farah is a volunteer youth coordinator who was stopped, along with the mosque's leader, last fall while trying to board a flight to Saudi Arabia for their annual pilgrimage.

Farah described the Somali community as being "overwhelmed" by news of the disappearances. And he said every young person in the community has been affected by the controversy.

"Sometimes, they come to me and say, 'does this mean all youth programs will be stopped?'" Farah said. "I say no, because we're not doing anything wrong. To come together, to share our beliefs, to have fun, and to feel that sense of belonging. There's nothing wrong with that. Fear cannot take over us, you know?"

Meanwhile, many Somalis in Minnesota say they have reason to believe that extremist groups in their homeland may ultimately lose their power -- as well as their appeal to impressionable youth abroad.

One of the primary motivations for radicalization in Somalia was the invasion by Ethiopian troops in 2006. Those troops left Somalia last month. And, a newly elected president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, is attempting to broker peace with insurgent groups.

Many Somali observers think the new president, a moderate Islamist, represents the best chance of bringing stability to a country that has not seen a stable government for nearly two decades.

The recent developments in Somalia prompted about 3,000 to pack the Minneapolis Convention Center over the weekend for an event celebrating the new direction the country is taking.

Abdisalam Adam, director of the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Cedar-Riverside, attended the festivities.

"The general feeling," Adam said, "is that there is hope."

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