Rep. Ellison testifies at hearing on 'Islamic radicalization'

Rep. Keith Ellison
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., center, one of two Muslims in Congress, becomes emotional as he testifies before the House Homeland Security Committee on the extent of the radicalization of American Muslims, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 10, 2011.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

In an emotional testimony before a House hearing on Islamic radicalization Thursday in Washington, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said Muslims died in the 2001 terror attacks, and he tearfully mentioned one man who perished when the Trade Center collapse in New York.

"Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans," Ellison said. "His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans."

Ellison, one of two Muslims in Congress, has criticized the hearing as a 'witch hunt' saying it's not fair to focus on a specific ethnic group in discussions about terrorism.

Community activist Zuhur Ahmed says it's unfair to focus only on Muslims when addressing the threat of domestic terrorism. Ahmed wiped away a tear while watching Ellison testify.

"I wake up every morning feeling like an American — not feeling, but knowing I'm an American," she said. "I'm an active citizen doing my thing. I'm proudly living here. But hearing that story agitated the feeling that the majority and others maybe don't view me as that — and that I am a less of an American because of my faith."

Leaders of a Minneapolis mosque also objected to remarks made by a Twin Cities man who testified that religious leaders tried to coerce his family into staying quiet about his nephew's suspected radicalization.

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The uncle of a Minneapolis teen who is believed to have died in the fighting in Somalia also testified Thursday.

Zuhur Ahmed
Zuhur Ahmed of Minneapolis wipes away a tear Thursday, March 10, 2011 while watching U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison's emotional testimony during a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. Ahmed, a community activist and host of a Somali-language radio show, and Abdirashid Abdi, right, were streaming live video from Washington in an office in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

Abdirizak Bihi said Islamic organizations and mosques need to do more to combat radicalization.

"The Somali community wants to be heard. My community wants to be heard," Bihi said. "I would ask you to look and open investigations as to what is happening in my community. We are isolated by Islamic organizations and leaders who support them."

Bihi has publicly blamed local imams for indoctrinating the youth, even though public documents from a federal investigation into the disappearances do not support that claim. However, documents suggest the young men held secret meetings at local mosques and homes to plot their return to Somalia.

This week's inquiry, spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Peter King, is reminiscent of another congressional hearing held almost exactly two years ago, when a Senate committee on homeland security explored the Minnesota connection to al-Shabaab.

Some Somali-Americans are concerned that Thursday's hearing will once again tilt the spotlight on their community for a chapter they'd rather put behind them.

"It looks like a political move because right now, things are slowly recovering," said Abdisalam Adam, a leader of the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Minneapolis. "To replay the whole story again without any reason for it, I'm really at a loss."

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations prepared for the hearing, in anticipation of being criticized.

As part of a written statement submitted to the House committee on homeland security before the hearing, the local CAIR chapter defended itself from accusations that it told Somali-Americans not to cooperate with the FBI's investigation two years ago.

"The confusion is that because we're telling people they have the right to remain silent, that they have the constitutional right to an attorney when being interviewed by law enforcement, that's somehow the same as impeding the investigation," said Lori Saroya, the chairwoman of CAIR-MN, in an interview. "And that's not true. We tell people to fully cooperate with law enforcement, but to do so while being protected."

(MPR reporter Phil Picardi contributed to this report.)