Somali community shaken by violent tragedy

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Seward vigil
Endale Kebede of Columbia Heights lit a candle during a vigil in Minneapolis Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010. Hundreds of people gathered at Seward Market and Halal Meat on E. Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis to remember the three men killed at the market Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The family of two cousins killed in a triple homicide this week in Minneapolis plan to bury the men on Friday.

Relatives of Osman "Abdifatah" Elmi and Mahad Warfa say the two men escaped the violence in the Horn of Africa, only to be brazenly shot to death in a corner store. A third victim is also believed to be an East African refugee.

The cruel irony of the men's fates is rippling throughout Minnesota's East African community. Mohamed "Mahad" Warfa, 30, of Savage, wasn't supposed to be at Seward Market and Halal Meat when the shooting took place. It was his cousin, Abdifatah Elmi, 28, of St. Paul, who worked at the Franklin Ave. shop. Warfa paid him a visit with some tea, said a distant relative, Mohamud Noor.

"He brought the tea to his cousin, and he just came to stay with him until he closed the shop," Noor said.

Another cousin, Faysal Warfa, purchased the corner store in 2007. By all accounts, the store was this family's American Dream. Faysal Warfa talked of sprucing up the store's curb appeal, and made good on that promise last year by painting the exterior a catchy bright blue.

Friends of the family say the owner was not ready to talk to the media, still mourning the loss of his cousins.

Mohamud Noor, the relative, said the family hails from the ethnic Somali region of Ethiopia known as the Ogaden. It's a place where the Ethiopian military has been accused of killing Somali civilians and torching villages.

Seward community vigil
Seward community members displayed signs during a vigil in Minneapolis Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010. Hundreds of people gathered at Seward Market and Halal Meat on E. Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis to remember the three men killed at the market Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"We are here to flee or escape from the violence back home," Noor said. "So we came here for safety. We're here to save the lives of our families. So the young guys who were murdered fled their homeland to save their lives. So this is sad -- very, very sad."

Noor and other Somali community members prayed quietly at the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque Thursday afternoon. They also gathered here the night of the shooting, to grieve collectively and start thinking about the burial and how they could help.

Community organizer Hashi Shafi said he was startled when he learned the triple slaying took place at the grocery right next to his office, in the close-knit Seward neighborhood. Shafi said a crime like this will bring everyone together -- including the larger community.

"It's something we never dreamed of, especially a man who has his own business, who does good things for the whole community," Shafi said.

The Seward neighborhood gathers
Hundreds of people gathered at Seward Market and Halal Meat on E. Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010 to remember the three men killed at the market Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Hundreds of community members gathered for a candlelight vigil in Minneapolis Thursday night outside the Seward Market.

At the candlelight vigil, Omar Muhumed said the Somali community must work with police to prevent further violence in the community.

"As a Somali community we have got to help ourselves, we don't have to hide those who are murderers," Muhumed said. "We have got to come out with information we have got to try to do the best we can to prevent another homicide like this."

Minneapolis police initially said the shootings looked like a robbery gone bad. But yesterday, they backed away from that comment and said they're not sure of the motive.

Authorities have not released the names of any of the victims. East African community members have identified the third victim as Anwar Mohamed, who they say was a loyal store customer and was ethnically Oromo. He is also expected to be buried Friday in Burnsville.

Mayor R.T. Rybak
Mayor R.T. Rybak spoke with community members during a vigil in Minneapolis Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010. Hundreds of people gathered at Seward Market and Halal Meat on E. Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis to remember the three men killed at the market Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Police are asking for the Somali-American community's help in solving the case. The store had nine surveillance cameras, and police say witnesses are cooperating.

At another corner grocery and halal meat shop, manager Elmi Farah was moved to action after watching the news about the Seward market. He called Maxwell Amoako to install a new security camera for the shop.

"He called me and said, come and give me a camera immediately," Amoako said. "So I came and we installed a four-camera system for him, day and night vision and we hope that will deter the criminals."

Farah said a masked man held up his store some time ago, but he's never heard of anything like this week's triple homicide.

"Everyone who has a grocery now feels fear," Farah said.

At a nearby Somali mall, men hugged and exchanged handshakes outside of a money-wiring business owned by a relative of the Warfa cousins. Shakur Abdisalam said members of the Ogaden clan are like one big family.

Terrible loss
Flowers were left at the front door of Seward Market and Halal Meat on E. Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Abdisalam gets choked up when he thinks about the killings of his relatives.

"They came here from a civil war country," Abdisalam said. "They came here for a better life, and to raise their kids. They thought they actually made it here in America, in Opportunity Land."

While several other Somali killings in recent years remain unsolved because of a lack of witnesses, Abdisalam said community members won't remain tight-lipped about this one.

(MPR reporter Jessica Mador contributed to this story.)