Somali activists say missing men went voluntarily

A handful of young Somali-American activists said they're convinced that the roughly 20 Minnesota men who left to fight in their homeland went voluntarily, raised their own money and recruited one another.

At a brief press conference Tuesday, activist Aman Obsiye of the group United Somali Movement touted a copy of a recent investigative story by the New York Times as evidence that religious organizations were not involved.

Obsiye said the broader coalition, called Somali Voices, included a range of political and community groups that represented "the true collective voice" of the local Somali community.

"We're not worried about the Minnesotans," said Obsiye, who described the state as largely welcoming and liberal. "We're worried about a few fringe individuals who are portrayed as the voice of the Somali community."

The comment appeared to be a direct jab at rival Twin Cities activists including Omar Jamal, who has publicly raised suspicions about a popular Minneapolis mosque where almost all of the missing men worshipped or socialized. As the news conference was under way, Jamal issued a news release reiterating his position that "radical individuals among us" were actively involved in the recruitment of the young Somali-Americans.

The Somali community is hardly monolithic, and a series of dueling news conferences over the past eight months about the missing men indicates just how deep those community differences are.

Organizers of the press conference said they wanted Minnesotans to know that they support a federal investigation into the missing men, and that they do not stand for terrorism. Last week, authorities unsealed indictments against two men with Minnesota ties who allegedly traveled to Somalia in December 2007 to fight.

"We're worried about a few fringe individuals who are portrayed as the voice of the Somali community."

The news conference, however, lasted only a few minutes and offered no new insight into the disappearances. The only speakers were Obsiye and John Bogele, a minister at Ridgewood Church, a Baptist congregation in Minnetonka. Journalists outnumbered Somali community members; one mainstream news outlet sent four people to cover the event.

Obsiye did not respond to a question from a reporter asking to comment on a court document filed by the attorney of Abdifatah Isse, one of the two men indicted on terrorism-related charges. The document that Isse, who has pleaded guilty to the charges, was recruited at "a house of worship."

Hassanen Mohamed, a program supervisor with Lutheran Social Services, said the indictments were "a first step of ... clearing the myths and finding the truth in this situation."

But Mohamed said the counterterrorism investigation was eclipsing the story of Somali-Americans working hard, revitalizing Minneapolis corridors such as Franklin Avenue and Lake Street, and graduating from college.

"Yes, we have a problem, but we feel the same way every American feels: We want to have success with our kids. We don't want to have failures in our communities. We're here not to stay for a short period. We're here to stay for a long period of time," Mohamed said.

Mohamed said the disappearances have been a wake-up call for the community. He says leaders are now focusing on how to solve a crisis among many Somali youth, who are dropping out of school, getting involved in gangs, and are desperate for more after-school programs, he said.

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