Local Somalis condemn suicide bombing in homeland

Somali-American community members demonstrate Sunday afternoon in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis against the Dec. 3 suicide bombing in Somalia. Some have called the day "Somalia's 9/11."
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

Even Somali-Americans hardened by the bloodshed of their homeland were sickened by the latest attack, a suicide bombing in Mogadishu on Dec. 3.

Many say the bombing was one of the saddest moments in recent Somali history. The bomber killed at least 22 people at a graduation ceremony for medical students. Some people have even called the attack "Somalia's 9/11."

On Sunday, about 100 Somali-Americans scrounged up their last shreds of hope for their homeland as part of a community rally in Minneapolis to condemn the violence and pray for the victims' families.

Some of the peaceful protesters were young people like Mukhtar Osman, who consider the bombing victims their own peers.

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Osman, a 26-year-old civil engineer from Minneapolis, knew at least five people who were injured or killed in the graduation ceremony, on a day that should have been one of the happiest of their lives.

"I had a lot of friends who made the decision to stay in Somalia to become doctors," he said. "I made the decision to leave Somalia, and I was given the opportunity. But my friends were not to be given the opportunity."

One of Osman's former classmates logged onto the social networking site Facebook just two days before the event to announce his upcoming graduation. That friend lost an eye in the bombing and is one of about 60 people who were wounded.

Rally organizers Nimco Ahmed and Abdirahman Mukhtar go over logistics for the rally Sunday afternoon, while two other volunteers drape the Somali and American flags onto a wall of the gym of the Brian Coyle Community Center in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

The explosion killed graduating medical students, journalists, and three government ministers.

Osman said as a devout Muslim, he still has faith that peace can one day return to Somalia. But the suicide bombing shattered something inside him.

"The condition in Somalia right now is hopeless," he said. "When the doctors are dying, students, mothers, fathers -- I don't know what else is left in the community."

Osman and his friends in Minnesota aren't blind to the fact that people are getting killed every day in Somalia. But in the past, the targets were warlords or government officials -- not young doctors and proud parents, said Abdirahman Mukhtar, who runs the youth programs at the Brian Coyle Community Center, a hub for Somali refugees in Minneapolis.

The medical students were his heroes, Mukhtar said, because they made it to school every day in the face of bullets and bombs.

Kids with signs
Somali-American children hold signs at the top of the bleachers during a Minneapolis rally Sunday afternoon condemning recent violence in Mogadishu, Somalia.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

"I cannot imagine how they overcame that," said Mukhtar, one of the rally organizers. "When I was in high school or in college, when the snow came, I would hope that the school would stay closed so I could stay warm. But nothing stopped these kids."

If any nation needs doctors right now, it's Somalia. The country is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in years, with more than 3 million people in dire need of food. The country hasn't had a functioning government since 1991, when the civil war broke out.

Suicide missions were virtually unknown in the traditionally moderate Muslim country until a couple of years ago.

The Dec. 3 attack has become a symbol of the country's escalating turmoil, as religious extremists, including the Islamic militia al-Shabaab, have tried to wrest power from Somalia's weak government.

The Somali government has identified the suicide bomber as a Danish citizen of Somali descent who the government thinks was radicalized.

Lost sister in bombing
Mohamed Aden Ali, seated in the office of his Minneapolis home health care business, lost his sister in the Dec. 3 bombing. Qamar Aden Ali was Somalia's minister of health and was working on a plan to bring Somali doctors from around the world to help their impoverished native country. Ali said the international community must get more involved with the situation in his homeland. "This is a kind of continuous bleeding of the country, and we need to take action," he said.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

For the past year, the FBI has been investigating whether about 20 Somali-American men from Minnesota were radicalized and joined the terrorist group al-Shabaab.

Somali protesters bundled up and braved the Minnesota chill Sunday afternoon in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, home to the nation's largest concentration of Somali-Americans. They rallied at the Brian Coyle Center, where the FBI held an outreach meeting with Somali-American youth just a day before.

Demonstrators marched through its slushy parking lot to condemn the violence, and prayed in the gym for families of the victims.

Fardousa Yusuf says even after about 19 years of civil war in Somalia, this is the worst she's seen.

"Somalia needs help," she said. "What's happening can spread to everywhere. It's something no one can believe. These people who are out to kill must be stopped."

Her friend, Raho Warsame, said without stability and security in Somalia, the world is not safe. But she thinks the international community has been slow to act.

A flyer outside the Brian Coyle Community Center, a hub for many Somali-American refugees in Minneapolis, promotes Sunday's rally against recent violence in Mogadishu.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

"It seems that the world just closes their eyes and forgets about that corner of the world," Warsame said.

Mohamed Aden Ali agrees. Ali lost his sister, Qamar Aden Ali, who was Somalia's minister of health. She was one of three government officials killed in the bombing.

"This is what's happening nowadays in Somalia," Mohamed Aden Ali said. "This is a kind of continuous bleeding of the country, and we need to take action. It's time that all Somali patriots wake up and find a solution to stop these things."

Ali says most Somalis are fiercely independent, but have reached a point where they're crying for military intervention. He's calling for the U.S. to send in troops.

Ali, who was a surgeon in Somalia, says his sister was trying to improve public health there, and was working on a plan to bring Somali-born physicians like himself back to their homeland to treat the sick and wounded.

Ali says Qamar Ali, who was educated in London, had just spoke to him about seven hours before she was killed, to talk about bringing him and other doctors to Somalia for the new program.

Only a year apart in age, he and his sister were close, as if they were twins, he said. Every time they talked on the phone, they said their good-byes as if it were their last.

Ali said despite the recent bombing, he and his colleagues still plan to travel to Somalia to carry out Qamar Aden Ali's dream.

"The legacy of my sister will go on," he said. "We will not stop. Let them know: The people of Somalia, they are ready to die, they are courageous people. We will never stop to give service to our people."