A group of elders in the Minneapolis Somali community on Wednesday publicly denounced al-Shabab, making it clear that they do not support the terror group they say is responsible for "sinister" acts of recruiting young Americans to fight in Somalia.
The elders made the statement shortly before a closed-door meeting with a representative from the local office of the FBI. The goal of the meeting was to keep an open dialogue with law enforcement - to allow elders to ask questions and air concerns, and give the FBI a chance to educate the group.
Abdirizak Bihi, a community activist who helped get the group together, said the elders are highly respected in the Somali community. To have them come out against al-Shabab is a big step, he said, "because if the elders validate our points of contention, it will be a very important issue for the community to get involved completely."
Supervisory Special Agent E.K. Wilson said during a dinner break that he listened to the elders' concerns about al-Shabab, gangs and other issues affecting Somali youth, and explained that the FBI is there to protect their children.
"We're really dependent on them to carry that message forward to the community at large. These guys are who the community looks up to, and respects, and will listen to," Wilson said.
It was the first time some of the elders involved had met with the FBI, which has increased its outreach efforts in the community since roughly 20 young Somalis left Minneapolis in recent years to fight with al-Shabab, a violent group that seeks to establish an Islamic state in Somalia.
The U.S. has declared al-Shabab to be a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaida.
Bihi's nephew, Burhan Hassan, was just 17 when he left Minneapolis to go fight in Somalia. His family said he was killed in the Horn of Africa country.
The statement from the elders said al-Shabab has inflicted sinister acts on the fragile Somali community by brainwashing and recruiting some American youths. It also said al-Shabab inflicts daily carnage on the Somali people in Somalia.
"We want to state that al-Shabab kills, maims and victimizes us in the Somali Diaspora, wherever we are," Bihi said, reading from the statement.
The statement also said the Somali culture is based on peace, coexistence and working hard to obtain the "American dream." It thanked those community members who have cooperated with law officers.
A total of 19 people have been charged in Minnesota in connection with the Minneapolis investigation, facing a host of charges. Two others have been charged in Alabama and California with helping al-Shabab.
Wilson said the investigation is ongoing.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
Your support matters.
You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.