Friday, March 27, 2015


The Latest News about Somalis in Minnesota.
Wararkii ugu danbeeyay ee Soomaalida ku nool gobolka Minnesoota.


MinnPost –More than 100 people squeezed into the Minneapolis Brian Coyle Center conference room Monday night to meet a delegation of Turkish government officials, who came to Minnesota over the weekend to bolster relations with Somali-Americans.

Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame, who arranged the arrival of Metin Kulunk, a member of the Turkish parliament, delivered the opening remarks of the event, which drew elders and officials from the local Somali community, the largest in North America. 

More than 100 people gathered at the Minneapolis Brian Coyle Center Monday night to meet the delegation.

The underlying reason of the invitation was to thank the Turkish people and their government for the humanitarian support to Somalia during a devastating famine experienced by the East African country five years ago.

When Kulunk took the stage Monday night, he described the growing bond between the two nations and applauded his government for the commitment to invest in Somalia. “The country that’s most well known in Turkey is Somalia,” Kulunk said through an interpreter. “Our beloved president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has built the bridge of brotherhood and understanding between our two nations. We’re happy to share both the pressures and your pains as brothers and sisters.” 

He added: “We have a common heritage. The only thing that is different between our cultures is the physical borders of our countries, not between our hearts or our souls. We’re brothers and therefore, Turkey has not left Somalia alone, and we will not.”

Erdogan first visited Somalia in 2011 to witness the effect of the famine that killed nearly 260,000 people from 2010 to 2012. The visit by Erdogan — who was the country’s prime minister at the time — was the first by a non-African leader to the war-ravaged Somali capital since 1991, when anarchy and civil war broke out after the ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. And though the famine has long been over, Turkey has stayed to build a relationship with Somalia.

Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame welcomed the Turkish delegation to the city (MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi).
Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame welcomed the Turkish delegation to the city (MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi).

Turkey’s activities in Somalia is part of the country’s efforts to extend its influence in the Muslim world. In Somalia, for example, Turkish companies are building roads, hospitals and a major airport, and the Erdogan administration provides scholarships to Somali students who are interesting in studying and living in Turkey.

At the Brian Coyle event Monday night, Kulunk hinted that many Somalis live in Turkey with dignity and respect. “If a Somali man and woman would be walking down the street in Turkey, and knocked at a door, all they have to say is that they’re Somalis, and the door would be opened,” he said. Speaking of his one-day visit to the Twin Cities, he added: “And I saw the same treatment here today.”

During his stay, Kulunk visited Minneapolis City Hall, the Minnesota State Capitol as well as Minneapolis businesses and Islamic centers. “It’s always good to have people come from other countries to see our beloved country of the United States and the great things that are going on here,” said Siad Ali, a member of the Minneapolis school board. “As Somali-Americans in Minnesota, we look forward to developing a good working relationship with the Turkish community here.”

Abdirahman Mukhtar, community engagement coordinator at the Brian Coyle Center, said the Somali community in Minnesota is a representative for Somalis across North America. “There have been many delegates coming to Minnesota to learn more about the positive contributions of the Somali-Americans here,” Mukhtar said. “We had a delegation from Sweden, another one from Denmark — and most recently, a delegation from Germany.”

A group of students walked out of classes Wednesday afternoon at Technical High School in protest.
(Photo: Jason Wachter, jwachter@stcloudt)

ST Cloud Times — Members of the St. Cloud Somali community have assembled a task force of around 15 people to meet with St. Cloud school district officials and seek a “peaceful resolution” after ethnic tensions flared at Technical High School last week. Members of the task force could meet with Superintendent Willie Jett as early as Wednesday.

Abdul Kulane, a Somali community leader and former City Council candidate, said at least 200 community members gathered Saturday at St. Cloud Public Library on and chose people from different segments of the Somali population who intend to talk about what they see as a pattern of bullying and discrimination at the school. The task force includes parents of Tech students, community elders and other leaders, and two Tech students.

“We wanted the full community to be represented,” Kulane said. “We want people to put their heads together and have a meaningful dialogue. It’s not going to work if it’s just the students, or just the parents.”

Members of the task force met on Monday to solidify an agenda before meeting with officials.

District spokeswoman Tami DeLand said Jett is planning to meet with members of the task force this week. DeLand said Jett met with Somali community elders on Saturday.

“All of these meetings are intended to be problem-solving,” DeLand said. “The superintendent’s agenda is to make sure that our mission is carried out at Tech High School and all our schools, and that all students feel welcome.”

Separately, representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations were scheduled to meet Monday evening with Tech students after being contacted by them last week.

Meanwhile, normalcy returned to Tech during a successful school day, DeLand said. In a voice message sent to parents Monday afternoon, principal Adam Holm said he was “very proud of all the students and staff for working together toward a safe and caring environment.”

Nearly 100 Somali students protested on the school’s front lawn Wednesday after protesters said an offensive Snapchat post circulated. On Friday, another disturbance placed the school under lockdown, and upset students walked out of a meeting with administration meant to address their concerns. DeLand confirmed that some students left the meeting, though she did not know how many or what prompted them to walk out.

“If you’re going to have deep and meaningful conversation, it doesn’t end after one meeting,” DeLand said.

School districts track at-home languages but not students’ nationalities. Of the 1,426 students at Tech, 277 — or just more than 19 percent — speak the Somali language in the home, DeLand said. At Apollo, that number is 292 of 1,342 students, or nearly 22 percent.

Other events

The local chapter of GRIP/ISAIAH will have a town hall meeting Tuesday to discuss the situation at Technical High School, among other topics, said community organizer Anne Buckvold.

The organization is a multi-faith group that works to improve social issues across the state.

The meeting will focus on the growing need for public transportation, driver’s licenses for immigrants and increasing the number of counselors in schools.

Organizers will also discuss the possibility of extending Northstar Commuter Rail to the St. Cloud area.

ISAIAH might organize future meetings to look further into the issues at Technical High School.

Times staff writer Stephanie Dickrell contributed to this report.

Officer Mohamed Mohamed enjoys stopping by impromptu soccer games while fulfilling his community policing duties in Mankato. He's hoping to start a more organized sports program this summer. Photo by Pat Christman

Mankato Free Press

MANKATO, MN — During a typical afternoon on the impromptu soccer field in the middle of the Hilltop Lane apartment complex, 13-year-old Abdi Ali rules the field.
He does his best to keep about a dozen younger kids around him focused on the game as they romp around the brown turf bordered by makeshift goals. They listen to him as he barks out names and tips about what to do with the ball.

Then officer Mohamed Mohamed pulls up in his Mankato Department of Public Safety squad car. Within a few seconds, the field is empty and Ali stands alone.

In some neighborhoods, you might expect youngsters to ignore a police officer when he pulls up or decide to move along to another location. The uniform is often a sign someone’s in trouble — and it’s not always pleasant answering questions from the officer wearing the badge and crisp blue shirt.

For the kids hanging around with Ali — many of them the children of Somali refugees — the stories about police officers could create more concern. They may have heard their parents talking about run-ins with law enforcement in their home country where a family member or friend faced brutal force or was taken away and never seen again.

The reaction to Mohamed doesn’t fit either scenario.

Kids swarmed around the officer, bouncing up and down as they took turns throwing high-fives and riddling him with questions. Mohamed smiled, got the kids focused again, and within a couple of minutes they were back on the field playing soccer. Mohamed joined them, blocking shots and giving pointers.

Ahmed Barkhadle was one of the first Mankatoans officer Mohamed Mohamed met when he was thinking about joining the Mankato Department of Public Safety. Photo by Pat Christman - Photo by Pat Christman
Ahmed Barkhadle was one of the first Mankatoans officer Mohamed Mohamed met when he was thinking about joining the Mankato Department of Public Safety. Photo by Pat Christman – Photo by Pat Christman

Ali didn’t mind losing the spotlight for awhile. The young coach likes officer Mohamed, too. They talk a lot and they’re working together with other volunteers to start a neighborhood sports program this summer. The plan is to have kids from all over Mankato travel around to challenge other neighborhoods to a soccer match or other competition.

“He’s actually pretty cool,” Ali said as he watched the mayhem. “He’s doing good things for us and we like having a police officer we know.”

Career pursuit

The fun doesn’t last long.

Mohamed has priorities and his police radio reminded him of that a short time after he arrived. He quickly told the kids about emails being sent to their parents about the summer sports program, passed around some quick goodbyes and got back into his squad to hustle off to a call.

He’s as busy as any other officer in Mankato, spending much of his time responding to service calls for neighbor disputes, auto crashes, theft reports, drug complaints and more serious crimes involving weapons and violence. When there’s time for community policing, he’s been assigned to the Somali community. That includes the Hilltop Lane neighborhood, where there is a large population of Somali renters, and a few grocery stores around town.

Being a police officer is something Mohamed has always dreamed about. That dream started as a child in Somalia and continued after he became a refugee in Egypt. When he moved to the U.S. as a college freshman, settling with his family in Hopkins, he believed his chances of ever working in law enforcement were over. He didn’t realize it was a job someone in this country could have without being born and raised here.

“In my head, I thought you could only be a police officer if you were born in that country,” he said. “That’s how it is in Third World countries.”

Mohamed described a childhood that wasn’t easy. Even after his family left Somalia to live in Egypt, he had to go to work at a young age because his family needed the income. He worked a variety of jobs, including a few in groceries where he stocked shelves and did other menial jobs.

“When I was little, I worked hard,” he said. “I got home from school and I went to work. Things were different there. You worked all day for $5 and there were no age limits to have a job.”

That work ethic helped him achieve a goal of receiving a college degree, even after he was told he would have to return to high school in Hopkins to meet the requirements for a higher education. Mohamed originally planned to go into business but decided to pursue his childhood dream again after meeting a Somali police officer in the Twin Cities.

“He told me all you need is citizenship, a college degree and you have to love the job,” Mohamed said.

There were opportunities in the Twin Cities area after he graduated, but Mohamed decided to accept a job in Mankato instead. He’s relatively new to the force and the first Somali-born officer to serve with the Department of Public Safety.

The department has a philosophy of community policing, something Mohamed has embraced while starting his new career. He quickly became well known within Mankato’s Somali community and has been building bridges in places that had been difficult for officers in the past.

The department has had a strong relationship with the Somali community for awhile, but Mohamed has added a new dimension, said Todd Miller, public safety director.

Mohamed is Somali, he speaks that language and Arabic, a language shared by other African refugees living in Mankato, and he knows what it’s like to be a refugee living in the U.S.

Much of what he is doing, including his plan for a summer sports program, fits perfectly within the community policing philosophy, Miller said. Not just with Somalis, but the community as a whole.

“We try to hire leaders,” Miller said. “Every one of our officers has an assignment: a neighborhood, a campus, working with seniors. I tell them to make decisions like they are the chief of police of that neighborhood.”

Officers are allowed to do anything they want to do in their assigned area as long as it meets the department’s mission of “Leading the way and making a difference.”

Mohamed said he wanted to be in a job where there was a large Somali community and he could be the first Somali officer. The departments in Minneapolis and St. Paul already had several, so he didn’t think he could have the same impact as he could have in Mankato.

“I thought, ‘What about smaller towns?” he said. “There are other Somali communities that need police officers.”

His decision has paid off for the Department of Public Safety, said Deputy Director Amy Vokal. Mohamed is a community-minded person, so his skills can be used throughout the city.

“He has a different skill set than we were used to and all of a sudden we can speak to more people than we used to,” Vokal said. “He’s a talker and he’s very, very easy to talk to, and he connects with people. He’s very good with people, people across the board.

“He’s obviously much better equipped to understand what it’s like to be a refugee in this country than most of us are. When he talks to somebody, he can get that personal background.”

Moving barriers

One of the first people Mohamed met in Mankato was Ahmed Barkhadle, owner of the Barkhadle International Grocery across the street from downtown’s Public Safety Center. He stops by the store regularly to talk to Barkhadle and his customers, which is one of many tools he uses to develop relationships that help him on the job.

When I came here for an interview for the job, I said, ‘That looks like a Somali name,’” Mohamed said. “So he’s the first person I got to know in Mankato.

“If you want to get to know the community or meet people in the community, a good place to come is the grocery store.”

Barkhadle is used to officers stopping in now and then to talk or pick up a snack during their shifts, as they do at many local businesses. But having Mohamed stop by for visits is a more comfortable experience because fewer barriers exist.

“I was so happy to see this guy,” Barkhadle said during a recent visit. “When the officer can speak your language, it’s very helpful.”

The same visit also brought a little razzing from a younger customer in the store. He didn’t know Mohamed but recognized him from seeing him at a business in St. Peter. Translating later, Mohamed said the man said he saw him eating.

“I told him I was hungry,” Mohamed said as he laughed and rubbed his stomach.

He was moving barriers — something that’s easier to do in a grocery setting than in the middle of a police call where someone is being cited or facing arrest. The same skills come into play during those situations, though, Mohamed said.

“A lot of Somalis, when they get into trouble, they have some sort of language barrier,” he said. “They don’t understand their rights and the laws, so it creates more barriers.”

His grocery loyalties in Mankato change when he’s looking for a prepared meal. A good time to visit the International Halel Market in the Village East Center strip mall near Hilltop Lane is during breakfast, lunch or dinner, he said.

“I’m single and I don’t cook, so I stop here often,” he said during a recent visit to the restaurant and store.

Mohamed Ahmed, the store’s latest owner, is a 2004 East High School graduate who received an associate degree in sales and marketing from South Central College before earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Minnesota State University. He has only developed a casual relationship with Mohamed so far, but he said he likes how the officer talks to store customers and works with kids living in the Hilltop Lane apartment complex.

Ahmed used to be one of those kids when his family moved into the complex in 2001.

“I think he’s not helping only Somalis, but Africans — the immigrants,” Ahmed said. “He respects the language. He talks to young people. He builds trust. He’s a gentleman.

“We want a feeling of trust between the police and the community.”

After Mohamed left Ahmed’s store, his next stop was the nearby soccer field where Ali and the other kids were playing. As he left for his police call, he said his first year on duty in Mankato has confirmed he made the right decision. The kids he enjoys working with show that.

“It feels good to let them know if you have a dream, you can achieve it,” he said.

Find me @FreePressDan on Twitter

More than 100 students and a handful of adults protested outside Technical High School starting shortly before noon Wednesday. (Photo: St. Cloud Times)
More than 100 students and a handful of adults protested outside Technical High School starting shortly before noon Wednesday. (Photo: St. Cloud Times)
More than 100 students and a handful of adults protested outside Technical High School starting shortly before noon Wednesday. (Photo: St. Cloud Times)

St Cloud Times – ST. CLOUD, Minn. – More than 100 students and a handful of adults protested outside Technical High School starting shortly before noon Wednesday.

Junior Hassa Abdi said students gathered because they felt administrators had not addressed conflicts between Somali and non-Somali students in the school.

The latest in a string of incidents involved a recent social media post on Snapchat depicting a Somali Tech student and using a caption that implied she was involved in the ISIS terrorist organization, Abdi said.

The school is in containment, which limits students’ movements, according to district spokeswoman Tami DeLand.

The students organized the protest through social media, said Lul Hersi, who identified herself as a parent of a Tech student.

Students and parents feel they are being unfairly targeted for discipline by administration, she said.

She said there have been cases in which Somali students are victims of bullying by non-Somali students and retaliate. The Somali students are disciplined, but the aggressor in the bullying conduct isn’t punished, Hersi said.

“This is what we were trying to avoid,” Hersi said, as she pointed to the crowd of kids. “But when our kids are pushed and shoved, believe me they’ll retaliate.”

Commissioner Ibrahim Mohamed

Commissioner Ibrahim Mohamed

MinnPost – Last month’s appointment of the first Somali-American, Ibrahim Mohamed, to the Metropolitan Airports Commission has attracted volumes of plaudits and media attention across Minnesota — and other parts of the world.

But on Tuesday night, it brought Gov. Mark Dayton, local officials and community leaders to Minneapolis’ Brian Coyle Center, where more than 80 people assembled to celebrate and honor the historic appointment of the commissioner, who drives a cart at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for minimum wage.

Appointed in February by Dayton, Mohamed joined 13 other commissioners who operate the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and six smaller airports in the metro area. Dayton said he appointed Mohamed because his employment experience at the airport can be a voice for hundreds of other airport workers in the decision-making process.

“I made appointments to the Metropolitan Airports Commission previously — and this is overdue,” Dayton told the crowd, speaking about Mohamed’s appointment. “It was overdue before I arrived, and it’s overdue now that I’m in my fifth year as governor. I regret that, apologize for that.”

Overdue or not, Mohamed’s face beamed with excitement as he expressed his appreciation to the governor for the appointment during a short speech before the crowd.

After escaping the Somali civil war in 1991, Mohamed lived in Kenya as a refugee for more than a decade, longing for a better place with opportunities to work and to pursue his dreams.

“As many immigrants, I came here to change my life and get a better life,” Mohamed said. “Now I am a cart driver, which I am happy to be because I am helping a lot of people who need my help, like elderly people and disabled persons. I work five days, and every day I help more than 80 passengers.”

In 2004, Mohamed settled in the Twin Cities and immediately secured a job at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. Over the years, Mohamed worked as an aircraft cleaner, a baggage runner and a ticket verifier.

As a full-time electric cart driver now, the 35-year-old Rosemount father of five earns $ 8 an hour — with no health benefits.

Mohamed and his colleagues have been advocating for improved working conditions for the hundreds of airport employees, many of them immigrants from Somalia and Ethiopia.

When Mohamed’s friends learned about the opening on the Metropolitan Airports Commission — the body that governs operations at MPS — they encouraged him to apply so he could represent their interests. 

As a commissioner, Mohamed said he will continue advocating for better working conditions for airport employees and for increased wages.

“It’s very hard to raise kids or family with the minimum wage,” Mohamed said. “That’s why I’m standing up to represent the airport workers and my community.”

The governor promised to stand by Mohamed in his efforts for a better wage for airport workers. “I will redouble my efforts and do whatever I can to support your efforts and the board of the airport commission to improve your working conditions, improve the wages,” he said.

Airport workers like Mohamed have indirectly “been treated badly” by the commission, Dayton later said in an interview. This is because the commissioners provide authorization to private companies that operate at the airport to pay their workers less.

“The airport couldn’t function without the hard work of commissioner Mohamed and his co-workers — and they deserve to be recognized,” Dayton said. “The fact that he was making $12.50 an hour a few years ago, according to reports, and they reduced that to minimum wage is just disgraceful.”

Mohamed, whose term ends in 2019, said he brings a unique perspective to the Commission, since the majority of commissioners come from white-collar backgrounds.

“We applaud Governor Dayton for insisting that a worker be represented on the MAC, and appointing a great candidate like Ibrahim Mohamed,” said Local 26 President Javier Morillo in a statement. “I am excited to see Ibrahim continue the work he has always done fighting to make the MSP airport the best airport it can be for both employees and passengers.” 

Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at@IHirsi.

Rows of worshipers bowed in prayer during a recent Friday service at the new mosque inside Karmel Mall. The space is on a newly added third floor.
Rows of worshipers bowed in prayer during a recent Friday service at the new mosque inside Karmel Mall. The space is on a newly added third floor.
Rows of worshipers bowed in prayer during a recent Friday service at the new mosque inside Karmel Mall. The space is on a newly added third floor.

Star Tribune – Construction of the metro area’s newest mosque involved a shopping trip to the Middle East, some back-and-forth with the city of Minneapolis and a reported $3 million investment.

But developer Basim Sabri says setting out to build one of Minnesota’s largest mosques at his Karmel Square mall wasn’t a vanity project. Instead, the space — part of a major expansion at Karmel — was meant as a goodwill gesture to the local Somalis who rent and shop at the south Minneapolis mall.

The expansion has tested Sabri’s famously tense relationships with the city and the mall’s neighbors, who have voiced concerns over parking and traffic issues. Part of the construction collapsed in May, cutting off electricity to the neighborhood and briefly stalling the project.

Since it opened earlier this year, the mosque has gotten rave reviews from a growing cadre of worshipers, who cover the sun-filled, 5,000-square-foot prayer hall completely when they kneel at Friday prayer.

“This mosque is not about showing off,” said Sabri. “It’s about need.”

The new mosque replaces a prayer room on the second floor that could not handle the crowds; worshipers spilled out into the mall hallways and, during the holy month of Ramadan, even the mall parking lot.

The space is on the newly added third floor of the state’s oldest Somali mall, where shops sell long skirts and scarves, henna tattoos, jewelry, handbags, rugs and Somali specialties such as savory sambusa pastries.

Sabri is also building a fourth floor and a three-story parking ramp.

He claims the new mosque is the largest in Minnesota, possibly even the Midwest. But the imam of another new Twin Cities mosque, Darool-Uloom, which moved into a former Catholic church on St. Paul’s East Side last summer, says it handily surpasses Karmel’s square footage to claim that distinction.

There, Imam Sheikh Hassan says the men’s prayer hall alone covers about 15,000 square feet.

Metro Islamic centers such as Al-Farooq Youth and Family Center in Bloomington and Abubakar As-Siddique in Minneapolis are larger overall, but their prayer spaces are more modest than Karmel’s.

In any case, says Abubakar Executive Director Ismail Haji, the services offered are more important than the square footage: “We’re not in competition with each other.”

Sabri, a Palestinian immigrant, says the mosque at Karmel was a labor of love he designed and financed with his own money. Sabri’s wife traveled to Jordan, where she bought artwork with Qur’an verses from Iraqi, Syrian and Palestinian artisans. The new rugs and chandeliers are from Turkey, and the stained-glass windows were salvaged from churches in Iowa and Wisconsin.

The new mosque has spurred a 20 percent uptick in traffic to the mall, Sabri estimates; as many as 800 worshipers have filled the incense-scented space for Friday prayer service in Somali and Arabic.

Like some of Sabri’s other projects across Minneapolis, the mall expansion has drawn a measure of controversy. When newly installed trusses collapsed and knocked down a third-floor wall in May, some neighbors said they had raised concerns in vain about what they saw as shoddy construction. Nobody was hurt.

“When the accident happened, I was so angry because it could have been prevented,” said Raymond Hoffner, the outgoing president of the condo association.

Hoffner gives Sabri props for taking steps to address traffic issues, but he said problems with illegal parking in the condo lot and nearby businesses persist.

He wishes the city had called for completion of the new ramp before the rest of the project.

Sabri, who has previously tussled with the city over starting projects before officials signed off on them, lined up a permit for the expansion in February 2014. But last summer, city staff pointed out that he needed an additional assembly occupancy permit for the mosque.

“It’s fair to say there have been some concerns on both sides of the fence,” said district supervisor Bill Smith, though he and Sabri both say the process was more cooperative this time around.

Worshipers at a recent Friday prayer service said they have welcomed the new space. Abdihakim Omar, a driver, said he didn’t even try to snag a spot in the former prayer room downstairs most weeks. Instead, he went to pray at another south Minneapolis Somali mall, Village Market, right across from his apartment.

But he’s come to Karmel every Friday since the new mosque opened in late January.

“It’s beautiful; it’s huge,” Omar said. “You can’t imagine how grateful we are.”

Liban Hussein, a Somali TV host and producer, said that the old prayer room got hot and stuffy. Out in the hallways, worshipers couldn’t see the imam or hear the service well, leading to confusion about when to stand and when to kneel.

“Non-Muslims should come and visit,” he said, “and see the beauty of the place.”

Walid Abubakar with College Possible coach Grace Fowler. Photo by Molly Jade Photograph
Walid Abubakar with College Possible coach Grace Fowler. Photo by Molly Jade Photograph
Walid Abubakar with College Possible coach Grace Fowler. Photo by Molly Jade Photograph

MINNPOST — When Walid Abubakar began thinking about paying for college, he budgeted for textbooks, transportation, living expenses — all of the usual stuff. And then he thought long and hard about the $300 to $400 a month he has been sending his family in Ethiopia.

Remittances — the money immigrants send from their new, more prosperous home — are life-changing to the family members who get them, but they’re not the lynchpin for a stable household budget, much less the cornerstone of a healthy national economy.

Anxious though he is to improve things in East Africa, Abubakar, who is Oromo, doesn’t think continuing to send money indefinitely is the healthiest way to help. At the same time, he can’t abandon his relatives.

His father transports potatoes from Somalia to Ethiopia along a road frequently ambushed by the militant group Al-Shabaab, a job that allows the family to subsist. Most of the money Walid sends pays for his sisters to go to school.

And so Abubakar, who is a senior at Ubah Medical Academy in Hopkins, has a plan to set his father up in a sustainable business while he, Abubakar, goes to college. He’s considering becoming either an engineer or a pharmacist — both professions that could make a critical difference in Ethiopia.

Encouraged to write about background

The plan existed only in Abubakar’s mind until recently, when a coach he works with through the St. Paul-based national nonprofit College Possible cajoled him into writing an essay about his journey from a refugee camp to academic success here. He was going to need scholarships, lots and lots of scholarships, and a “special circumstance” letter would go a long way toward securing them.

He was working on an application for the very competitive National Horatio Alger Scholarship when Grace Fowler, the coach who has worked with him for two years, glanced over his shoulder. “I was sitting in the computer lab thinking about how many students across the country were applying for this,” he recalls. “She said, ‘I know you can go deeper than that, Walid.’”

Abubakar was surprised. He had thought his background was a complicated liability: “It never occurred to me someone would hear my story and think of it as a strength.”

Right after the holidays Abubakar learned he was one of 100 students chosen for the prestigious scholarship. That means he has a minimum of $22,000 to put toward college — a sum colleges that partner with the program will match.

He has also heard back from eight of the 10 colleges he applied to that any would be happy to admit him and one, St. John’s University, has offered him a $20,000 presidential scholarship. (The two holdouts: Macalester and Carleton colleges, two of Abubakar’s top three choices.)

Intensive coaching through college

Launched 15 years ago by Jim McCorkell, who had a lot of help getting from a low-income background to first Carleton and then Harvard, College Possible recruits low-income high school sophomores with GPAs of 2.5 or higher — frequently the first in their families to even consider college — and provides intensive coaching until they have completed a degree.

Upper-income students are almost 10 times more likely to earn a degree, College Possible Twin Cities Executive Director Sara Dziuk notes: “The injustice of this gap is staggering and it’s hurting our economy. … The perseverance these students demonstrate once they see what’s possible is awe-inspiring and we are thrilled by the opportunity to reach more of them.”

The organization serves more than 15,000 students in 45 high schools and numerous colleges. This year it is working with more than 11,000 Minnesota youth. Participants are 10 times more likely than their peers to complete college, according to a study recently released by researchers at Harvard University.

At a White House summit held in December, College Possible announced plans to increase its capacity to serve 20,000 students in 10 cities by 2020. It’s not the first time the program, which used to be known as Admission Possible, has earned a shout-out from President Barack Obama.

Two hours twice a week

Coaches, all of them AmeriCorps members, meet for two hours with high school students twice a week. By the time students graduate they have received 320 hours of support.

Among other things, juniors prepare for and take the ACT and SAT to get an idea where they are versus where they want to be. They then get intensive support working to increase their scores and find the enrichment opportunities colleges also look for.

As seniors, participants apply to colleges and for financial aid. As college students, they get ongoing help navigating personal finance and the other obstacles that can get in the way of completion.

Abubakar had set himself a high bar even before he found out about College Possible, but he was unsure how to vault it. When a coach from the program visited his class two years ago, he was determined to get in.

“I felt like it was what I needed,” he says. “I wanted to go to college and I wanted to go to a college I wanted.

“The whole organization is for people who need support for college readiness and the ACT, and those are definitely the kinds of support I wouldn’t have. Considering I didn’t have much parenting, the coaches kind of take over that role.”

For the most part, Abubakar has managed his life and education without the adult support most students count on. Eleven years ago when Ethiopia was at war with Somalia his family lived in a refugee camp. The resettlement program they were eligible for could not move everyone, so the two oldest children, Abubakar and his sister, came to the United States with two aunts.

Spoke no English

Abubakar had never been to school and spoke no English when he entered Minneapolis’ Anne Sullivan. He struggled there and decided on his own — his aunts were in no better position to navigate the school system — to switch schools in fourth grade to a program with a science and technology focus.

“If you ask any African parent, over anything you [should become] an engineer or a doctor,” he explains. “Considering Africa is not a very developed continent, resources like those are what people need.”

Abubakar did well in school, but felt isolated. When high school came around he enrolled himself at Ubah, where a majority of students are African immigrants.

When he heard about College Possible he had the same reservations that haunted him when he began applying for scholarships. He works full time as a security guard — he lives in his own apartment in St. Louis Park — and would need to leave one of the two weekly sessions a few minutes early.

A disappointing score — and a strategy

Fowler didn’t blink. Nor did she try to temper his aspirations — an all-too-frequent occurrence in high school guidance offices. She did push him to take the ACT, and invited him to spend his lunch hour in her room after he learned got a 19.

“I was devastated,” says Abubakar. He had already dared dream much higher than that.

“This is not a reflection of your intelligence,” Fowler told him. “This is something else.” She outlined a strategy for getting the 25 he would eventually need: Starting with his lowest score and moving toward the highest, work on getting ahead in each subject area.

“One of the things I emphasize when I give back ACTs is I say, ‘This is you taking the test without any guidance,’” she says. “We didn’t tell you to bring a pencil. We didn’t tell you to bring a calculator. This is you at your least prepared.”

Increasing his academic qualifications wasn’t as daunting as thinking about the money. “We did a lot of sessions on how much it would cost,” Abubakar says. “I knew there would be a lot of scholarships out there, so I let myself dream big.”

He wrote essay after essay after essay — eight for the Gates Millennium Scholarship alone and an especially close to his heart one to Macalester about his dream of participating in the college’s strong campus interfaith groups. (Abubakar is Muslim, and would like to help put an end to American stereotypes of Islam.)

Abubakar was managing everything — living independently, working full time and sending money home, raising his grades and taking honors courses and applying to colleges — when his mother died. She passed suddenly and without explanation; because Ethiopia lacks health care, disease goes undiagnosed, he explains.

‘I was overwhelmed’

“I didn’t want to get out of bed,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to come to school. I was overwhelmed.”

Here, too, Fowler was a safety net: “She made it as easy as possible for me to be here and to be myself.”

Abubakar’s story is unique, but the obstacles between him and a college degree are not. By using the AmeriCorps model, College Possible is able to serve students in five cities for one-seventh the cost of similar efforts. A whopping 98 percent of participants are admitted to college, which they are overwhelmingly likely to complete.

In January the group was rewarded with one of 26 U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation grants for $3 million to help with the planned expansion.

When he is done with college Abubakar would like to go back to Ethiopia to help. But he’d like to make something of himself here first, so that much as he plans to turn his remittances into capital for a family business, he can help others gain the skills to build a stronger economy.

“Looking back on my background and where I come from, there are not a lot of people who are educated,” says Abubakar. “My parents, the highest education they got was the elementary level.

“There are very few who got to go to college and do something for the community one day,” he adds. “I want to do that for myself and for my generation.”

al franken

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) has joined eleven more Democrats in announcing that they won’t be attending Netanyahu’s speech to Congress. The total of Democrats who are not attending the speech has jumped to 53.

In a statement, Sen. Franken said, “This has unfortunately become a partisan spectacle, both because of the impending Israeli election and because it was done without consulting the Administration. I’d be uncomfortable being part of an event that I don’t believe should be happening. I’m confident that, once this episode is over, we can reaffirm our strong tradition of bipartisan support for Israel.”

al franken

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) also announced that he will be skipping the speech, “I do not plan to attend the prime minister’s speech. I’m concerned that behind it was a mischievous effort to manipulate domestic politics in both countries, which should not be the terms of engagement between friendly allies.”

Franken and Whitehouse join five other Democratic senators who are skipping the speech. Forty-six House Democrats are also skipping the speech. A few of the House Dems have other commitments, but the vast majority are not attending because of the way that Speaker Boehner and Prime Minister Netanyahu disrespected President Obama.

There are still dozens of House and Senate Democrats who have not made up their minds about attending the speech. If you member of Congress or Senators is not on the list below there is still time to contact them and express your position. Netanyahu’s speech has become a partisan affair, as the attempt to disrespect the president has backfired on both Boehner and Netanyahu as Democrats are staying away by the dozens.

Here is the fully updated list via The Hill of those who will not be attending:


Rep. Karen Bass (Calif.)
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.)
Rep. Corrine Brown (Fla.)
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (N.C.)
Rep. Lois Capps (Calif.)
Rep. Andre Carson (Ind.)
Rep. Katherine Clark (Mass.)
Rep. Lacy Clay (Mo.)
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.)
Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.)
Rep. Steve Cohen (Tenn.)
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.)
Rep. John Conyers (Mich.)
Rep. Danny Davis (Ill.)
Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.)
Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.)
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (Texas)
Rep. Donna Edwards (Md.)
Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.)
Rep. Chaka Fattah (Pa.)
Rep. Marcia Fudge (Ohio)
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.)
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.)
Rep. Denny Heck (Wash.)
Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (Texas)
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas)
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio)
Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.)
Rep. John Lewis (Ga.)
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.)
Rep. Betty McCollum (Minn.)
Rep. Jim McDermott (Wash.)
Reps. Jim McGovern (Mass.)
Rep. Jerry McNerney (Calif.)
Rep. Gregory Meeks (N.Y.)
Rep. Gwen Moore (Wis.)
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.)
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas)
Rep. Chellie Pingree (Maine)
Rep. David Price (N.C.)
Rep. Charles Rangel (N.Y.)
Rep. Cedric Richmond (La.)
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.)
Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.)
Rep. Mike Thompson (Calif.)
Rep. John Yarmuth (Ky.)


Sen. Al Franken (Minn.)
Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Sen. Brian Schatz (Hawaii)
Sen. Martin Heinrich (N.M.)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.)

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Screen shot 2015-03-03 at 2.54.43 AMMINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Some local immigrants say they, and their families, are being unfairly affected by an anti-terrorism effort.

Most banks that have helped east African immigrants wire money home are no longer doing that.  Some are afraid the money could end up in the hands of terrorist groups, such as al-Shabaab. But local immigrants said the hold on transfers could ruin the economy in places like Somalia.

Mustafe Abi spent Sunday going from money transfer store to money transfer store and is trying.

He’s been trying for weeks and he’ll try again.

“We try because they don’t have nothing,” Abi said.

Abi moved to the U.S. in 2006 from a refugee camp in Kenya. He goes to school and work here to support his mom and brother back home.

“Their school is not free, food is not free, they are not working, they don’t have income other places. It just depends on what I am sending them,” Abi said.

Now that most banks have stopped wring money to places like Somalia, it’s been trickier than ever.

Representative Keith Ellison said it’s a major problem among his constituents.

“I have tons of examples personally and specifically about people trying to get money to their loved ones,” Ellison said.

Ellison said he’s been trying to make that point in Washington, to encourage banks to allow the flow of small amounts of money to Somalia.

“We want to stop money from going to the terrorists but we don’t want to be so inflexible that we can’t get the money to the overwhelming majority of people,” Ellison said.

While most banks have decided to stop the transfers completely, he said a few are continuing to quietly help east Africans out. Abi said he’ll find one.

“My mom’s not getting anything for food, my brother’s not getting school, nothing. So money wire closing, I see it as death and life,” Abi said.

Ellison worries that al-Shabaab could gain momentum by stepping in and offering money to these families who aren’t getting it.  But the banks of course are backing out, afraid of fees and afraid of helping pass money to dangerous hands.

WCCO also spoke with Omar Jamal, a local Somali activist. He said he believes millions are being affected and he also thinks it could give al-Shabaab momentum.



Star Tribune (– It’s been exceedingly hard lately for Somali-Americans to wire cash back to families in their homeland after the main California-based bank that facilitated the bulk of the business halted Somalia transfers Feb. 7.

The bank stopped doing business in Somalia after the Treasury Department issued a cease-and-desist order last year because bank officials could not adequately prove all of the money being wired from the United States was going to legitimate sources.

Of the roughly 30,000 Twin Cities Somali-Americans, about 80 percent use money-service businesses to send money to the Horn of Africa, which is bereft of both a stable government and a banking system.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken are concerned that the issue is creating an even less stable environment — both at home and abroad — and that sending money is a net positive to come from America in a deeply troubled place ridden with terrorist organizations.

Trouble is, the politicians may have a hard time getting anywhere.

The senators, along with Ellison and a few other House members, fired off letters asking for meetings at the State Department so they could explain that a seemingly small banking problem has the potential of escalating into a larger diplomatic one.

“Is there any doubt that this situation is grave and getting graver?” said Ellison, a Democrat representing Minneapolis. He noted that 40 percent of Somalia’s gross domestic product comes from banking remittances from abroad. “Do we really want a situation where we have a fragile state and we pull the rug out from under them at a time like this?”

A meeting last week with eight federal agencies and departments — including State and Treasury and the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission — did not go well, according to members in the meeting. The National Security Council did not even attend the meeting.

There was little said that gave Ellison hope that the bureaucrats wanted to find a solution. “When we asked them who was in charge, nobody was,” Ellison said. “They all had a piece of it, but no one took institutional responsibility for figuring this out.”

Franken echoed the sentiment. “I was extremely frustrated,” he said in a e-mail. “Every federal agency representative told us that they are concerned, and yet no one came to the table with specific solutions to get remittances flowing again right away.”

Several agencies did not respond to requests for comment, though Bryan Hubbard, at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, said he would let the politicians talk.

“We don’t comment on our conversations with the members of Congress,” he said.

Ellison said he asked whether there were any legislative solutions, some measure they could pass, that could help solve the problem.

“They said nothing,” he said. “They literally stared back at us with blank expressions, with no proposals.”

Ellison and Franken vowed to push the Obama administration more on solving the crisis, but it’s unclear what they can do at this point.

“When Somalis in Minnesota can’t send money to their loved ones through legal, transparent channels, it strengthens terrorist groups like Al-Shabab,” Franken said. “This is a crisis and needs to be solved now.”

A group of Somali community leaders leave the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood for a solidarity lunch at Mall of America.


A group of Somali community leaders leave the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood for a solidarity lunch at Mall of America.
A group of Somali community leaders leave the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood for a solidarity lunch at Mall of America.

KMSP (MINNEAPOLIS) – The East African community of Minneapolis is coming together at the Brian Coyle Community Center to discuss how threats of terrorism and recruitment by al-Shabaab and ISIS are overshadowing the positive work of Somali-Americans and Muslim-Americans.
Community leaders will once again publicly condemn last weekend’s video from the al-Qaeda linked terror group al-Shabaab that called for attacks on Western shopping centers, and specifically Mall of America.

On Tuesday, a group left the Brian Coyle Center and boarded a light rail train to Mall of America, where they had lunch to prove “there is nothing to be afraid of.” Somali community leader Omar Jamal believes al-Shabaab is desperate to use scare tactics like the video to divide Muslims and Somalis in the United States.

“I’d like to tell Minnesotans, do not fall for this propaganda from the al-Shabaab machine,” Jamal said. “It is not going to work. All they’re looking for is attention.”

Statement from Somali-American leaders in Minnesota (Feb. 23)

“The safety and security of Minnesotans and of all Americans is of utmost importance to Somali-Americans. We condemn all forms of terrorism or threats of terrorism, repudiate any individual or group that would carry out such attacks or make such threats and remain committed to being at the forefront of defeating religious or political extremism. While remaining vigilant, we must not allow a terror group to achieve its goal of spreading fear or panic. We must also prevent justifiable security concerns from being used as a pretext to promote hatred, prejudice and suspicion of the whole community. As a nation, we are better prepared and more united when we all work together to keep our communities safe.”

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Insight News – The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office released a new video aimed at strengthening relationships between law enforcement and the Somali community. The video discusses the public safety responsibilities of the Sheriff’s Office, opportunities for community members to connect with the Sheriff’s Office, and describes the Sheriff’s Community Engagement Team (CET). The video is approximately six minutes long and the narration is in the Somali language.

Screen shot 2015-03-01 at 2.43.37 AM“Hennepin County is very diverse, and we recognize the need to be reflective of the multicultural communities we serve. This video allows us to share our message in a manner that is culturally specific so that we can continue to build trust and positive relationships in the Somali community,” says Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek.

The CET will utilize the video at community gatherings, roundtable discussions, citizen’s academies, and other events. In the video, Sheriff Stanek introduces the CET and explains the importance of ongoing outreach efforts in order to address public safety concerns and build trust. The Sheriff’s Office East-African Liaison, Abdi Mohammed, describes the role of law enforcement, current issues affecting the Somali community, and how residents can effectively partner with the Sheriff’s Office to reduce crime.

Hennepin County is home to nearly 100,000 Somali, and 40,000 Oromo residents.

The CET was established in 2010, and is responsible for partnering with community organizations and law enforcement agencies to improve outreach efforts within Hennepin County. The CET attends community gatherings and celebrations, they respond to citizen requests for assistance, and also promote diversity recruitment efforts for the Sheriff’s Office. Since its inception, the CET has become a model program for agencies worldwide.

minneapolis MSP 1


minneapolis MSP 1ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) – He had a one-way ticket to Somalia, but he never made it past the security checkpoint at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Zaki Mohammed Sugule was arrested at the airport on Presidents’ Day, acting suspiciously. According to airport police, the 39-year-old was traveling with a fake Somali passport — the wrong color, poorly laminated and name misspelled. Sugule told police he was trying to self-deport himself out of the United States in order to “turn his life around.”

Fox 9 has learned federal agents became concerned because in his pocket was the name and address of a contact in Syria, raising the fear Sugule may have been attempting to fly to Somalia to fight for al-Shabaab, or perhaps would attempt to reach Syria to fight for ISIS.

Another East African man — who we are not identifying — was arrested the same day for traveling with false documents, and it’s unknown if the two were traveling together.

Several people who knew Sugule say he was known as the local drunk or inebriant. They can’t imagine he would planning to fight for ISIS or al-Shabaab. They just don’t think he’s competent enough.

Sugule has been arrested more than 40 times in the last decade for assault, disorderly conduct, and terroristic threats. At the Starbucks in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood last year, he threatened to kill people with a drill bit. He has a habit of sucker punching people at random, and once used a piece of broken glass to slash someone across the face.

Airport police arrested Sugule last week on five outstanding warrants, and a few days ago, a judge sentenced him to 1.5 years in prison. Ominously, Sugule told airport police, according to the report, “after he cleared up his warrants he would be coming back again to leave the U.S.”

minneapolis MSP 1

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Screen shot 2015-02-24 at 3.50.04 AMYoutubeKeith Ellison, U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district discusses Violent Extremism on MSNBC’s NOW With Alex Wagner

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the program stigmatizes the Muslim community.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the program stigmatizes the Muslim community.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the program stigmatizes the Muslim community.

MinnPost — The Twin Cities’ Somali-American community and religious leaders are divided over an anti-terrorism initiative that aims to deter young Muslims from enlisting with the Islamic State and other violent extremist groups.

Even while a delegation of local officials heads to the White House for a Wednesday conference about the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, other local leaders plan to hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon to raise concerns about the same program.

At the Tuesday news conference in Minneapolis, representatives from various mosques and Muslim organizations in the state will outline several recommendations on how they think the CVE pilot program would best serve the community. One of their key recommendations: that the program be independent from the influences of all law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the Department of Justice and the National Counterterrorism Center.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the program stigmatizes the Muslim community. “The Department of Homeland Security is not known to be providing funds to do after-school programs,” Hussein, who is organizing the press conference, told MinnPost last month. “There are other organizations that do that.”

“We don’t want police, especially law enforcement agencies — we don’t want them to be doing after-school programs because their job is to investigate, their job is not to run after-school programs or to monitor after-school programs,” he continued.

Speculation about the program and consequences for those who participate in it have dominated the conversations within Minneapolis’ Somali community for weeks. Though the program expands social services for Somali-American youth, there are also fears that information collected from youth participants will be used for surveillance and investigation purposes.

Many in the community grew cautious after news reports about two law enforcement outreach programs in the Twin Cities were used to gather intelligence. U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, however, said that CVE will have nothing to do with surveillance gathering.

Luger has recently reached out to Minnesota’s Somali activists, leaders and imams as he promoted the program in the community. He met with members of the Somali community publicly and privately to listen to accounts of the disappearances of some of the 15 Somali-Americans believed to have gone to Syria in recent months to join Islamic State, the terrorist organization.

On Wednesday, Luger is expected to unfold details of the plan for the initiative during theCountering Violent Extremism conference in Washington, D.C. Fifteen Twin Cities delegates will accompany Lugar to the conference, which is focused on seeking strategies to avert U.S. citizens from joining ISIS and other terrorist organizations.

The delegates attending the conference include Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau; her St. Paul counterpart, Tom Smith; Rick Thornton, FBI Special Agent in Charge; Abdi Warsame, Minneapolis City Council Member; Rich Stanek, Hennepin County Sheriff; Abdisalam Adam, Minneapolis mosque leader; Mohamed and Abdi Farah, co-founders and leaders of Ka Joog.

Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @IHirsi

Congress in Support of Somalia

Congress in Support of Somalia

(MPR NEWS) Members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation are among those calling for a meeting with Obama administration officials to discuss an emergency plan to restore money transfers to Somalia.

Lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to address how Somalis can safely send money back to their home country.

Last week, Merchants Bank of California closed the accounts of Somali-American money service businesses.

Mohamed Idris, executive director of the Columbia Heights-based American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa, says the move cut off a financial lifeline to many in Somalia.

“This is the backbone of Somali economy,” Idris said. “And for sure it will have a devastating effect if intervention [does] not occur.”

The letter requesting an emergency plan was signed by U.S. representatives Keith Ellison and Erik Paulsen, as well as senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.

Ava Ramberg and Kelly Heller helped shape a boarding school in Somalia. (Courtesy photo)

Star Tribune

Ava Ramberg and Kelly Heller helped shape a boarding school in Somalia. (Courtesy photo)
Ava Ramberg and Kelly Heller helped shape a boarding school in Somalia. (Courtesy photo)

When Ava Ramberg and Kelly Heller arrived in the autonomous Somaliland region of Somalia in 2011, they planned to teach for a year. Within weeks, the Twin Cities natives knew they’d stay longer.

The pair helped shape a boarding school recently launched by an East Coast hedge fund manager with half a million dollars of his own money. At the Abaarso School of Science and Technology, Ramberg and Heller struggled to get the knack of teaching — and saw students land full rides to selective colleges.

“There was a kind of addiction in knowing we had a lot to contribute,” said Ramberg, who stayed three years and oversees the school’s finances from New York.

In 2011, both women were recent college graduates: Ramberg of the University of Minnesota, Heller of the University of Wisconsin. Postings on a site that lists international nonprofit jobs caught their eye. For school founder Jonathan Starr, Somaliland was full of potential: more stable than much of the war-ravaged country, but sorely lacking in infrastructure.

For the Minnesotans, the new jobs were tough. New to teaching, they had to draw out shy, reticent newcomers to the school. They faced local mistrust of foreigners.

But the students won them over, said Heller, now in grad school at Columbia University: “We came to care for them so incredibly much.” One student read two English dictionaries cover to cover. Pupils, some of whom had lost parents in the war, pleaded for extra homework and scarfed down lunches to get back to studying.

The women found Minnesota to be an instant icebreaker. The state is known for its Somali community, which has chipped in to pay for Abaarso students’ tuition.

More than 30 students have moved on to colleges worldwide, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Most will be back, Ramberg said: “When students come to us, it is ingrained in them they are the future of their country.”

Mila Koumpilova (612) 673-4781

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Screen shot 2014-12-23 at 1.31.18 AM

MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) – Reports on social media indicate another Minnesotan may have died fighting for ISIS in Syria.

A Twitter user who is known to have connections to al-Shabaab in Somalia, claims the man was killed during a recent U.S.-backed offensive in the Syrian city of Kobane. On Twitter the militant said, “Allahu Akbar (God is Great), a young Somali brother I used to know back in Minnesota got Martyred in Kobane.”

The Twitter user identifies the dead man only as “Yusuf,” and says Yusuf’s older brother is with him in Somalia.

‘We believe he’s a recruiter’

“This is someone (Yusuf) we’ve been following for some time,” said Omar Jamal, a Minnesota Somali community leader with the group American Friends of Somalia. “We believe he’s a recruiter and may’ve even purchased tickets.”

Jamal said Yusuf is believed to have left Minnesota in June shortly after another man, Abdullahi Yusuf, attempted to leave on May 28, but was intercepted by FBI agents at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. Abdullahi Yusuf, 18, is in custody and was indicted last month with another Minnesotan, Abdi Nur, 22, for providing material support for the terrorist organization ISIS. Nur is believed to be in Syria fighting for ISIS. The FBI says there is no evidence he has returned to the United States.

FBI investigating

FBI spokesperson Kyle Loven said the agency is aware of our report and they’re looking into it, but can neither confirm nor deny that another Minnesotan has died fighting for ISIS in Syria.

Who is the Twitter user?

The Twitter user who disclosed Yusuf’s death, goes by the name “Miski” and sources tell Fox 9 News they believe he’s the same “Miski” identified in a federal indictment as Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan. Hassan was indicted in August 2008 of traveling from Minnesota to Somalia to join al-Shabaab. He remains a fugitive from justice.

Federal prosecutors said last month that Hassan (aka Miski) had contact with Minnesotans who had traveled to Syria to fight for ISIS. According to the federal indictment against Abdi Nur, Hassan allegedly communicated through Facebook from Somalia with Nur in Syria.

“Us brother from mpls wanted to know how many you guys are back there in sham (Syria/Iraq)?,” Hassan asked last August in a Facebook communication to Nur. From Syria, Nur replied, “Only three of us the others there still working making hijra (journey).”

In a conversation that illustrated Jihadist connections between Syria, Somalia, and Minnesota, Hassan (aka Miski) told Nur:

“Being connected in Jihad make you stronger and you can all help each other by fulfilling the duties that Allah swt put over you… Like us in Somalia the brothers from mpls are well connected so try to do the same… It is something we have learned after 6 years in Jihhad (in Somalia).”

According to the indictment, Hassan (aka Miski) tells Nur: “Jihad teaches you to have as much connection as you can from other Jihadi fronts. That’s some lessons we got the past 6 years.”

Dool Salat (left) and Ben Warne have worked together to start Reliant Transportation, a non-emergency medical transportation company serving the seven-county area. (Photo: Jason Wachter, PHOTOS)

St Cloud Times

Dool Salat (left) and Ben Warne have worked together to start Reliant Transportation, a non-emergency medical transportation company serving the seven-county area. (Photo: Jason Wachter, PHOTOS)
Dool Salat (left) and Ben Warne have worked together to start Reliant Transportation, a non-emergency medical transportation company serving the seven-county area. (Photo: Jason Wachter, PHOTOS)

Synergy can happen in business when two people work together and the result is greater than if either had the same plans on their own.

It happens in many circumstances, but it’s rare — if not unique — in Central Minnesota in the case of Reliant Transportation.

The principals in the company include Dool Salat, who came to the United States from Somalia in 2007, and Ben Warne, who grew up in Perham and is working toward an accounting degree at St. Cloud State University.

Their backgrounds are seemingly a world apart. Yet, since the two have joined forces, their enterprise has been growing and they’ve added several contracts for non-emergency medical transportation this year. Their staff has grown to five, and they use 30 independent contractors to deliver clients to various appointments.

“We’re capable of more than 100 rides a day,” said Salat, 32, who started Reliant Transportation by himself in 2010. “But I don’t see us as being limited. Now that we’ve gotten together, we have the ability to expand and we’re looking at that. With the areas around Minnesota we’re looking at, our goal is to someday soon have a couple thousand per day.”

A map of the state of Minnesota is on one wall of their headquarters at 600-25th Ave. S in St. Cloud. The map has circles drawn around potential expansion sites.

They can trace the growth back to a chance meeting a couple of years ago when they lived at Grand River Estates.

“I was with a group of my friends playing pool and Dool was with a group of his friends eating pizza and they got to playing with us, too,” said Warne, whose father, Darrell, also became a partner in the company when it reorganized last January. “We got to know each other and kind of hit it off.”

Warne used his accounting background to help Salat figure out some payroll and compliance issues.

But they were still just friends until last year, when Salat wanted to take a three-month vacation to return to Africa. Who did he ask to run operations in his absence? None other than Ben Warne.

“When I came back and saw the excellent job he did, we sat down and talked,” Salat said. “I’d been waiting to find someone like me, the right person to bring in and help run the business.

“When I started, I had been a driver for three years in St. Cloud for another company, managing the Willmar and St. Cloud areas,” Salat added. “I wanted to go on my own and so I went down the checklist of what I had to do, one by one. I bought three vehicles and and I was hustling by myself to keep it going.”

Salat said he was unable to go after transportation contracts because he was licensed to only provide access transportation services, such as a bus or taxi. Since collaborating with Ben Warne, they have taken steps to qualify for special transportation services. That means they transport people who, because of physical or mental impairment, are unable to safely use a common carrier. The driver provides assistance, also referred to as a “door-through-door” or “station-to-station” service.

The company has three vans, with two of them capable of STS service.

Salat and Warne try to take that a step further, however. They strive to set up a client with a driver who can speak their language. In addition to the Somali population, Reliant Transportation can accommodate people who speak Spanish, Russian, Hmong, Oromo and Swahili.

“There are communities, even within St. Cloud, where we hope to bridge the gap,” Warne said. “Getting to know Dool also has allowed me to learn another culture, and I think I’m better for that. I can go in the Mogadishu Mall now and say ‘hi’ to people and there’s no awkwardness.”

Salat said Warne has grown to like sambusa, a Somali recipe for a fried or baked pastry with spiced potatoes, onions, peas, lentils and sometimes meat — including ground lamb, ground beef or ground chicken.

“He knows everything about our culture,” Salat said of Ben Warne. “A lot of time when people come here, they get Americanized. But Ben has really made an effort to get to know my Somali friends and what we’re about. We trust each other and there’s a lot of things we can do together. Maybe we can set an example for more people to do the same.”

Finland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Star Tribune

Finland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs

HELSINKI — In Finland’s first court case where terror charges have been filed, three men and one woman have been given suspended sentences for collecting a small amount of money for an al-Qaida-linked militant group in Somalia

The Helsinki District Court said Friday the defendants collected a total of 3,200 euros ($3,900) to fund terrorist activities by the al-Shabab group in 2008-2011.

Three of them were given five-month suspended sentences. The fourth one, considered the organizer of the group, was given a suspended sentence of 16 months for recruiting members to al-Shabab, which is trying to create an Islamic state in Somalia. He was also sentenced for attempting to take children from Finland to a training camp of the militant group.

All the defendants are of Somali descent living in Finland.

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