MN's Somali Community Reaction to ISIS Indictment

Cedar Riverside High Rise- Thousands of Somalis Call Home Here

On November 25th, 2014, United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota announced criminal indictment against 20 years old Abdi Nur and 18 years old Abdullahi Yusuf for allegedly providing material support to ISIS, one of the most brutal terror networks in the Middle East. Nur has already left America and is believed to be in the Middle East fighting for ISIS. Yusuf was arrested in Minneapolis but later released to his parents.

The indictment became a leading story. Media sensation with terrorism involving the Somali community ensued. Few community members were interviewed to provide sound bites, a pseudo established routine.

While the indictment drove the news cycle with great intensity, the grass-root reaction in Minnesota’s Somali community was passive. In fact the revelation barely registered in community conversations. Discussion of the indictment was certainly absent in the bustling Somali civic places like mosques, coffee and barber shops.

True community pulse is always present in the local mosques, coffee and barber shops. Somalis congregate these places to exchange information, chat and debate issues of the day.

I visited the aforementioned places and found Somalia politics dominated the discussion instead of the indictment. The popular idea of solving Somali’s intractable political problems through autonomous regional governments was being debated once more. There were plenty of elegant solutions for the standoff between Somalia president and the prime minister. The two men had been in political stalemate on how to run Somali’s weak federal government. The president has been angling to fire the prime minister through parliament and the prime minister has been fighting back with vigor. Parliament became split into two camps each allied with one of the men.

The debate in Minnesota’s Somali community is the mirror image of the political division in Somalia. One camp of the community wants to see the prime minister gone and has written his political obituary. Failed prime ministers came and went in Somalia. The current one should be no different goes the argument. The other camp is confident the minister’s political survival. Supporters of the prime minister talked about the need to organize a rally in Minnesota to condemn the president for being incompetent and inept.

I asserted myself in one of the conversations and shifted topic to the two men indicted for providing material support to ISIS in a barber shop inside Minneapolis Somali mall where half dozen men enjoyed Thanksgiving time off and the rhythm of the atmosphere while in queue for a haircut. I asked what people heard so far about the indictment.

I initially got blank stares. Apparently no one heard about the arrest and released of Abdullahi Yusuf. When I explained further of what happened, I heard deep suspicions of the FBI. There was unanimous agreement that the FBI orchestrated the whole thing.

There were number of theories of what led to Yusuf’s arrest at this barber shop. One particular theory went like:

Nur was double-sided informant. He was recruited by the FBI. The FBI loss control of Nur once he got to the Middle East. But before Nur disappeared from the FBI, he recruited Yusuf. That’s how Yusuf came under the FBI radar leading to his arrest. Under this theory, Nur was double agent gone wrong and Yusuf’s arrest was part of successful FBI sting operation trapping innocent 18 years old.

Pioneer Square- Mohamud Attempted to Attack with Fake FBI Car Bomb

One man brought up Mohamed Mohamud as a proof of FBI seducing disfranchised young man to dream about becoming a terrorist. Mohamud was sentenced to 30 years after he tried to set-off a fake car bomb orchestrated by the FBI in Portland, Organ. Another man re-enforced the first man’s suspicions by asking if the FBI is not behind it, why haven’t they arrested who is behind the recruitment? A third man concluded Yusuf’s arrest as FBI sting operation.

An analysis in one coffee shop was more critical of the explanation in the indictment. The assertion in the indictment of discussion between Abdullahi Yusuf and a clerk at the passport office becoming odd leading to FBI tipoff was mocked. One man said it’s inconceivable that would be serous terrorist would seek legal documents to travel and divulge the frontline country of Turkey as his destination. Terrorists have their ways of traveling to avoid detection he concluded jokingly.

Neither Nur nor Yusuf was linked to a particular mosque. No mosque has been implicated. Mosque leaders expressed sense of relief. It was a change from the last time when there was federal indictment.

In 2007, a group of young men traveled to Somalia to join armed struggle against Ethiopia but later ended up fighting for Al-Shabab, Al-Qaida wing in East Africa. Some of the men worshipped at Abubakar As-Saddique mosque. The mosque became epicenter of the investigation that followed. None of the mosque leaders were charged with any crime nor cleared of wrong doing. No surprise the absense of implication in the current indictment brought sense of relief.

The Somali community reaction to Nur and Yusuf indictment was stoic. But there are deep suspicions of federal law enforcement agents specifically of the FBI under the stoical state.

Only the FBI can debunk these suspicions and speculations through deliberate outreach. An important element in a deliberate outreach is candid communication supported by clear evidence. Standard public relations message is significantly falling short of its goal. The alternative is for suspicions and speculations develop roots and ultimately become accepted knowledge in the community.