Family members have identified the Minnesota man who African peacekeepers say tried to detonate himself in a suicide bombing last week in Mogadishu.
He is Farah Mohamed Beledi, 27, formerly of St. Paul. Beledi is a familiar name to federal authorities. Last year a grand jury indicted him on charges of traveling to Somalia to join the terror group al-Shabab.
Beledi said publicly that he used to run with a Somali gang in the Twin Cities, and he served prison time for assault. Now family members are meeting with the FBI, determined to find out how this former street criminal became radicalized for jihad.
Beledi's elderly mother Mumina Roba said she at first didn't believe the news from family in Nairobi, Kenya, that her son was dead.
Not until she saw the picture.
MPR News obtained images of the blast from African Union officials last week. One photo shows a dead man with his eyes halfway open, his face covered with shrapnel. AU officials say he was killed before he could activate his bombs, but they believe a second man blew himself up.
Frail with asthma and resting her swollen feet in her tiny apartment at a St. Paul high-rise, Roba asked to look at the photo, against warnings that it might be too painful to see.
Roba and two of her sons say there's no doubt that the dead man in the picture is Beledi. The explosion also killed two African Union troops and a government official.
But Roba can't explain how an American-raised kid who fled civil war and a refugee camp could have been indoctrinated to kill himself and others.
"I don't know what got inside him," Roba said in Somali. "The youth around here are not under control. When he was going to school, sometimes he was gone for three days at a time."
Beledi's family paints a portrait of a man who was leading a life of dead ends before he left for Somalia in late 2009.
Court records show Beledi pleaded guilty in 2007 to stabbing a man in the neck and his side during a soccer game at Central High School in St. Paul. He served more than a year in prison, and was on supervised release until May 2009, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections.
No one from the family visited him in prison, his mother said. By that time, their relationships with him were already strained.
Abdulahi Beledi said he and his younger brother came to the U.S. with their mom in 1996, when Farah Beledi was 12. During high school, Farah Beledi began cutting class and getting into trouble.
"Then I told him, 'This is a good country, with opportunities. You're so young. So, why?' I give advice, but he didn't do it. So we don't have a good relationship," Abdulahi Beledi said.
Abdulahi Beledi said the last time he saw his little brother was seven years ago. And their mother says it's been at least three years since she's spoken to Farah Beledi. Once Beledi turned 18, the family doesn't know where he lived or what crowd he hung out with. Public records list residences for him in Minneapolis, Spring Lake Park and Fridley.
Beledi never knew his father, who died when he was a baby.
But after he was released from prison, Beledi didn't fly entirely under the radar. While acquaintances say he struggled to find work because of his felony record, he became more absorbed in his Islamic faith.
He attended the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque in Minneapolis, the largest Somali mosque in the state. That was one place where most of the 20 or so young men worshiped and gathered before traveling to Somalia, allegedly to fight alongside the extremist group al-Shabab.
Beledi also started counseling troubled youth in the Somali-American community. He met young men at the Somali malls, using his own record of bad choices and hard time as an example. One community member said Beledi was effective in his message because he had the street cred to back up his cautionary tales.
"Before, I was involved with gangs and drug dealing and things like that. I even went to prison," Beledi told reporters during the height of the controversy surrounding the Abubakar mosque, in February 2009.
Beledi told the crowd that the mosque helped him break free of his criminal past, and gave him a new purpose in life. He defended the mosque from allegations from some community members that officials there brainwashed the young men.
"Let me ask you one question: Can I blame any other than myself for the mistakes I made in the past? No. I can only blame myself. Even my parents told me what I was doing was wrong, but I never listened to them. Everyone makes their own choice in life, the same way the Abubakar center cannot be blamed for the missing youth (and) what they did," Farah Beledi said at the time.
The FBI said there's no evidence mosque leaders had anything to do with the missing men.
Just eight months after Beledi spoke at the mosque, he was on his way to Somalia, following the same pipeline that brought other young Twin Cities men before him. A year after the federal investigation started, friends and authorities say he slipped across the Mexico border with a suspected recruiter from the Twin Cities who had been under FBI scrutiny named Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax. Federal prosecutors believe Faarax, now 34, enticed young men for the war in Somalia. Friends who continued to track Faarax through Facebook said he eventually made it to Africa.
Community members who knew Beledi say they think it's his voice on an audio recording on a Somali website released after his death.
"I would like to talk to my brothers and sisters out there in the West, or wherever you are: Brothers, come. Come to jihad. I welcome you and call you to jihad," the voice on the recording states.
The FBI has not confirmed Beledi's identity, but a spokesman said the agency is working to identify the remains from the bombing.
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