FBI, Twin Cities Somalis hope to rebuild relationship

Zuhur Ahmed, radio host of "Somali Community Link"
Zuhur Ahmed, radio host of "Somali Community Link" on KFAI, works the controls during a show on the missing Somali-American men. Her guests include Taneeza Islam from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, writer/community-clinic case manager Ahmed Yusuf, and Special Agent in Charge Ralph Boelter of the Minneapolis FBI office.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

Special Agent in Charge Ralph Boelter appeared Monday night on the weekly KFAI radio show "Somali Community Link." He acknowledged that the investigation has stirred up fears in the community, but said some of those fears are overblown.

"We've heard in the community (that) people have advised all residents, 'Don't talk to law enforcement. Don't talk to the FBI about this case,'" he said. "That's not going to solve this problem. ... The FBI can't solve this problem alone. We need to solve it in concert, in cooperation, with the community."

An attorney with the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations who also appeared on the show urged the FBI to examine its tactics. Young Somali-Americans say they have been randomly approached for questioning at malls and on college campuses.

Boelter indicated that the FBI is "getting to that point" in which it will be able to go public with its findings, but he didn't specify how much longer it would take. A federal grand jury has been meeting for several months about the issue, and indictments are expected.

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Special Agent in Charge Ralph Boelter
Special Agent in Charge Ralph Boelter of the Minneapolis FBI field office answers questions on the KFAI radio show "Somali Community Link."
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

Boelter also stood up to criticisms from one young female caller who had been subpoenaed. She said the FBI agents were fueling suspicion about religious leaders and other individuals by showing their photographs to people they interview. "Their names have been dragged through the dirt," the young woman said.

Boelter said accusations against certain individuals didn't originate with the FBI, but from others in the community. He said agents are doing their jobs by exploring credible leads.

"If they're showing these photographs or if they're asking questions about particular institutions or people, there's a reason for it," he said. "There's a basis for it. It can be relevant. Trust me on that."

He didn't name anyone. But those who have been interviewed have told MPR News that the agents appear to be focusing on Abubakar As-Saddique, a south Minneapolis mosque where many of the young men worshipped. Mosque leaders have said they welcome the investigation.

Boelter was joined on the radio show by Taneeza Islam, the civil rights director for the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Islam urged the Somali community to cooperate with investigators -- and also to know their rights to have a lawyer present during questioning.

Islam also invited Boelter to begin a dialogue with her group. The national FBI severed its relationship with CAIR earlier this year after allegations that the Muslim civil-rights group had ties to supporting Hamas.

Islam praised Boelter for reaching out to Somalis and other Muslims in Minnesota by granting interviews with a number of ethnic-media outlets over the past several weeks. But she also said that the FBI's approach to interrogations has created more anxiety in a community already distrustful of government.

"It's a difficult time to start outreach now," Islam said. "I would like to have seen this relationship and trust built before a contentious issue arises. Without that trust, it's hard to work together when the times are hard, and that's kind of where we are right now."