FBI raids Minn. money transfer businesses

Late into the evening, the rumor mill was churning -- people who hadn't witnessed the raids were saying they'd heard that 30 or 40 armed FBI agents had stormed a single business in a mall that caters to Somalis in Minneapolis with guns drawn.

Abdirahman Omar
Abdirahman Omar manages North American Money Transfer, Inc. in Minneapolis. The store was raided Wednesday by FBI agents seeking information related to wire transfers to Somalia and other African nations.
MPR Photo/Jess Mador

In reality, there were only 15 agents at that location. They had guns, but Abdirahman Omar, who manages North American Money Transfer, one of the shops that was raided, says no weapons were drawn.

"We cooperated with them and we helped them get what they need and it took around four and a half hours," he said.

Omar said he was not told what the agents were looking for. They interviewed employees and left with about 10 boxes of documents and copied computer hard drives.

"Business was shut down while they collected computer images," Omar said. "Hard drives and also all the documentation that we had in the office."

No one was arrested.

The search warrant, issued not in the Twin Cities, but in St. Louis Missouri on April 3rd, says authorities were looking for documents and other materials "relating to the transfer of money, currency or funds" to Somalia, Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates from January 2007 to the present.

FBI agents also searched Quran Express and Aaran Financial.

The warrant also sought client lists, bank checks and other information on the ownership and management of the business.

North American Money Transfer has branches across the United States, including St. Louis. All of the transfers in the country are processed by the main branch in Minneapolis. The office handles about $1.5 million per month, mostly headed to Somalia.

An FBI spokesman wouldn't comment on the specific nature of the investigation.

Omar, the manager of Mustaqbal Express, said an FBI agent told him the raids were not directly related to an investigation into about a dozen missing Somali-American men from the Twin Cities.

Relatives believe the young men are fighting with Al-Shabaab, a Somali militia with ties to Al-Qaeda that the U.S. has labeled a terrorist organization.

Minnesota has the largest Somali community in the US, and many people rely on money transfers to send remittances home to support their families. Somalia has not had an official government for almost two decades and is wracked by violence.

At a nearby money transfer shop, a worker who identified himself only as Saleban was planning to shut down early because business was so slow. Normally after work, he says there is a line out the door but news of the raids slowed business to a halt.

"Maybe people are not sure if they send the money will it reach their families or what will happen. They don't know and they are just concerned," he says.

The raids are the latest high-profile development amid lingering questions about whether there's a terrorist link between Somalia and the Twin Cities, but exactly what triggered yesterday's actions has yet to be revealed.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Editors Note: This story has been amended from its original version to change the attribution of information concerning the FBI's raid. The original story stated that the FBI said the raids are not directly related to the agency's ongoing investigation into missing Somali-American men from Minneapolis. That statement should have been attributed to the manager of a money-wiring business, not to the FBI. The FBI declined to comment on links between the two cases.

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