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Sixth Minn. man reportedly dies in Somalia

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Troy Kastigar
Troy Kastigar, 28, of Minneapolis, left for Somalia in November 2008. Authorities think he was one of 20 men from Minnesota who left to join the war in the east African country. But unlike his peers, Kastigar was not Somali. His family received information within the past week that he has died, according to family friends.
Photo courtesy of the Hennepin County Sheriff's office

A sixth Minnesota man is feared dead in Somalia after joining an Islamic extremist group there. But Troy Kastigar stood out from his fellow recruits, because the Minneapolis man was not Somali. 

Kastigar, 28, was a Muslim convert who apparently had no personal ties to the lawless east African country.

Troy Kastigar's family received reports of his death within the past week, according to friends of the family. The circumstances of his reported  death aren't clear, and the information could not be confirmed by the FBI.

Kastigar's involvement in Somalia is a puzzle in itself. He told his mother that he was going to Kenya when he left the Twin Cities last November.

Somali community members believe Kastigar was part of the last wave of  Minnesota men who joined the violent militia al-Shabaab in Somalia. While some of the 20 or so men say they left to defend their homeland in a bloody civil war, Katigar's motivations are less clear.

Family friends say Kastigar's mother raised him and a younger brother on her own. When Troy was about 10, he and his mom took up karate lessons in Golden Valley. Their instructor, Allan Kunstmann, now owns a martial arts studio in Maple Grove. He remembers the young Kastigar as respectful and hard-working. 

"He always seemed like a happy kid, seemed very respectful, polite, upbeat, positive," he said. 

Kunstmann says Kastigar earned a black belt and had a lot of potential.  Kunstmann says Kastigar's mother, Julie, was nurturing, and there were no signs at the time that he would ever run afoul of the law.

But Kastigar did find trouble as a young adult.

Before he left for Somalia, he acquired a lengthy rap sheet, filled with misdemeanors ranging from credit card fraud to driving after his license was revoked. 

Robbinsdale Cooper High School, 1999
Troy Kastigar (center in gray sweatshirt), is seen in this 1999 class photo from Robbinsdale Cooper High School.
Courtesy of Robbinsdale Cooper High School

According to former classmates, he graduated in 1999 from Robbinsdale Cooper High School.

Kastigar is identified in police reports as white, but his mother claimed Native American heritage.  

At some point, Kastigar converted to Islam and went by the Muslim name "Abdirahman."

Somali-American community members say they occasionally saw Kastigar at the mosque, and more frequently at community basketball games or at the Brian Coyle community center in Minneapolis.

Mukhtar Osman, a former student at the University of Minnesota, says he met Kastigar last fall across the street from the U's Carlson School of Management. 

Troy Kastigar was a Muslim convert who apparently had no personal ties to Somalia.

Kastigar was wearing a traditional Pakistani tunic, a tattoo on his neck, and a strange beard. He was in a car with three Somali young men whom Osman knew. Osman says it was the first and only time he saw the man who introduced himself as Abdirahman.

Before that afternoon, Osman says he would occasionally see the other men meeting in classrooms at the Carlson School.

"I would just say hi, and I don't know what they were talking about."

Now, Osman has a clue. Just a few days after shaking Kastigar's hand, all four men left for Somalia.

Family members of Troy Kastigar have e-mailed close friends about his death this week. His mother and brother did not respond to requests for interviews, and family friends would not comment out of respect for the Kastigar's wishes. 

They say while the information regarding Troy Kastigar's death is sketchy, the family considers the accounts to be true.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained comments from an anonymous source that should have not been included under the anonymous source policy of MPR News.

(Producer Sasha Aslanian contributed to this report.)