MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) –A former daycare operator is in jail while police search for her husband as part of a multimillion-dollar fraud investigation.
Yasmin Ali of Fridley and her husband, Ahmed Mohammed, are charged with felonies along with two other men — Joshua Miller of St. Paul and Jordan Smith of Cottage Grove.
Ali and Mohammed owned the Deqo Family Centers in St. Paul and Minneapolis, which provided daycare services to low-income families.
Minnesota offers child care payments for mothers who average 20 hours of work a week, with an income level that qualifies. The state pays the child care provider directly.
To get the payments, prosecutors say the Deqo Centers would recruit mothers, especially those with several children. If they didn’t have jobs, they could go on the daycare’s payroll, and they wouldn’t have to work nearly as much as the daycare was telling the government.
Ramsey County attorney John Choi calls it a complex scheme.
“The defendants provided counties with pay stubs overstating hours that were worked by the mothers,” Choi said. “In some cases, no wages were paid to the mothers, but pay stubs were created to make it appear as if wages had been paid.”
That money then was going to the company operated by Ali, Mohammed and Miller.
In just one ten-month period, the group allegedly took in more than $3 million in fraudulent payments.
Choi wouldn’t comment on what the group may have done with the millions, but he says officials are working to get the money back.
“I am a supporter of the safety net in our community,” Choi said. “And it’s very troubling and very disheartening to know that there are people in our community who would take advantage of those good intentions of our public.”
Choi says the investigation of one crime led to two others.
Investigators also found evidence of a similar scheme involving personal care attendants, which Smith allegedly took part in.
They also allege the group committed tax evasion by not reporting all the profits they made through their illegal activities.
Mohamed Barre and his children pose for a photo on October 15, 2014, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Pictured (from left to right) are Ilias, age 12, Ilhan, age 9, Issa , age 11, Barre, Ilham, age 9, Ismael, age 13, and Ishaq, age 10
Years ago, Mohamed Barre began snapping pictures of Somali life in Minnesota just so his kids could see what it was like for the first refugees.
But as he photographed everything from mosques to halal markets, Barre found he’d built a rich archive of Somali-American life for everyone. What began as an amateur photographer’s tinkering grew into art.
On Saturday, he’ll host an exhibit of his images at Bottineau Commons in Minneapolis. Barre, 50, describes the photos as “a good excuse” to get Somalis and non-Somalis together.
“I want everyone to get to know my community as well as their neighbors, to know more who they are and ask questions that you somehow cannot ask at the playground, at the bus,” he said recently as he watched his children run around the soccer fields near their northeast Minneapolis apartment building. “You can come and ask me any question that relates about the community.”
Barre came to the United States as a refugee in 1995. He lived in Virginia then moved to Minnesota in 1998. He met his wife, Naema Ali, also a Somali refugee, when they were both in college at St. Mary’s University in Minneapolis. Their six kids, ages 9 to 13, were all born in Minnesota.
It’s important for the younger generation to know the way things were for people who fled war-torn Somalia, Barre said. But while some Somali refugees focus on returning to a renewed Somalia, Barre says that’s the last thing on his mind.
“We are raising children that were born here. Few of them will ever go back,” said Barre, a child-support officer at the Hennepin County Department of Health and Human Services. Immersing them completely in American life will let them “integrate and understand this is their country.”
That doesn’t mean he wants his children completely disconnected from their heritage. When asked, they can rattle off facts about Somalia, their parents’ homeland.
“They have dangerous animals, like hyenas and lions,” says 10-year-old Ishaq.
“A lot of beaches and mango trees,” Issa, who’s 11, chimes in.
The children are more comfortable, though, with knock-knock jokes and NFL scores. Occasionally they burst into random pop culture refrains, like when they sing the theme from the “Cops” TV show.
Barre and his wife wouldn’t have it any other way. “They owe a sense of belonging to somewhere and it has to be here in Minnesota,” he said. “I have to give them full freedom for them to exercise and understand the culture they belong to.”
“I want them to understand who I am, what my values are, the cultures that I had,” he said. “But I also want to give them the opportunity to understand their culture so they can choose how to blend the two.”
When they’re older, he hopes they’ll look at his photos and see the faces of the Somali refugees who helped make their lives in Minnesota possible.
“I always tell them, ‘Don’t be like me, a newcomer,” he said. “You were born here. You live here.”
The story of Hamse Warfa begins in a place not unfamiliar to many immigrants in Minnesota: Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia. But where that story culminates (at least for now), is quite unique: with a memoir Warfa released last month: “America Here I Come: A Somali Refugee’s Quest for Hope.”
Growing up, Warfa was financially better off than the boys he played soccer within Mogadishu: His father, Mohamed, was a livestock trader, and his mother, Hindisa, ran a clothing retail business. Together, they had a private driver who took care of their needs and those of their 14 children, including Warfa, the 12th born — a luxury many Somali families didn’t have at the time. “My family lived quite comfortably in an affluent part of Mogadishu,” he said. “I had anything I needed as a child.”
When the civil war erupted in 1991, however, the Warfa family’s luxurious lifestyle disappeared. After armed groups ousted the military government of President Mohamed Siad Barre, the country collapsed into anarchy. Killing, looting and rape came to define Mogadishu.
Warfa and his family escaped to a Kenyan refugee camp, where they faced series of tribulations for three years. Food was scarce. So was clean water. Warfa spent days and nights under a small tent. There were also violent crimes and armed robberies. Organized gang members, taking advantage of the lack of security, roamed the camp.
“We felt like our dignity was taken away,” said Warfa of life in the camp. “We were proud in our country, working and getting quality education.”
Road to the United States
After three years in the camps, Warfa and his family eventually arrived in Denver, Colorado, in 1994, thanks to the Church World Services, which arranged the departure through the Family Reunification Process.
Warfa faced alienation and a language barrier when he first arrived in the United States as a teenager. He was one of a few people of color at South High School in Denver — and struggled with the American culture. Indeed, even though he qualified for the free and reduced-price meals, he avoided eating at the school.
“The biggest challenge we encountered was that we came with the perception that any food in America contains pork and alcohol,” he said. “So I didn’t eat there because most of the food, in my mind, had pork or alcohol.”
And he didn’t know enough English to ask about the types of food the school served. So he didn’t eat there for more than a month, he said, feeling isolated and unwanted. “We didn’t feel welcomed. As much as the school administration tried, we still felt lonely and out of place.”
While still new and barely speaking English, Warfa had to find a job so he could contribute to the family’s expenses. Before he learned the meaning of “interview,” Warfa one day was called for a job interview at McDonald’s. He went to the interview wearing jeans and boots, eager to win a dishwasher position.
When the manager asked him why he was interested in working at McDonald’s, Warfa’s response was swift and honest: “Because I need money.” He got the job.
Searching for Somali community
Immigration services often assign refugees and immigrants to specific states according to where their sponsors live. In Warfa’s case, his brother, who supported the family, lived in Denver with his wife and children.
After a little over a year, however, Warfa and his family sought a more diverse space, where they could feel a sense of community, a sense of belonging. That led to San Diego, which at that point had the largest Somali population in the country.
Warfa and his family rented two adjacent apartments in City Heights, a neighborhood the San Diego City Council declared a “state of emergency” because of excessive criminal activities, including drugs, shootings and prostitution. But City Heights also had the things the Warfa family longed for: a diverse population of African-Americans, Somalis, Latinos and Hmong.
Tensions between African-American and Somali students
While attending Crawford High School in City Heights, Warfa witnessed melees breaking out between African-American and Somali students — in some cases, as many as 100 people would be involved in the fight, he said.
In his book, Warfa explores the cause of the fights between African-Americans and Somalis: “One would have thought since they have the same origin and color, there would be fewer problems between them,” he writes.“It was argued that African-Americans felt that Somalis didn’t understand the great sacrifices that African-Americans had made so that future generations could live in liberty. As far as the African-Americans were concerned, the Somalis seemed to enjoy the freedom with abandon, while they hadn’t contributed in any way to its attainment.”
Yet the many obstacles Warfa faced upon coming to the United States only seemed to strengthen his desire to become a valuable member of the Somali community.
He would eventually go on to get a bachelor’s degree in political science from San Diego State University and a master’s of science in organizational management and leadership from Springfield College. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in public administration at Hamline University, and works for the Eden Prairie-based Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, serving as a program officer.
‘America Here I Come’
With the Somali population increasing in Minnesota and states across the country, Warfa often contemplated ways he could promote cultural understanding between Somali immigrants and their American neighbors.
One of those ways came to fruition in late November, when Warfa published “America Here I Come: A Somali Refugee’s Quest for Hope,” a memoir detailing the swift change that came to his family’s middle-class lifestyle when the civil war broke out in Somalia and the tribulations that followed him in Kenyan refugee camps.
For immigrants, the book is a case study in the value of perseverance. For native-born Minnesotans, the book provides a thorough introduction to the rich history of Somalia — and a wider understanding of the thousands of Somali immigrants who are now part of their community.
Warfa will hold a book-launch event on December 13 at 3 p.m. at the Cowles Auditorium at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Sisterhood Boutique was started by group of young Somali women who noticed how much fun their brothers and male classmates had running a coffee shop at the Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.
At first glance, the new Sisterhood Boutique on Riverside Avenue next door to Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota’s West Bank campus looks like many other spunky startups around town.
It’s packed with racks of blouses, jackets, dresses, slacks and shorts, displays of boots, shoes and jewelry, shelves of purses and bags, a vase of sunflowers and scarves hanging on the walls. The selection ranges in style from contemporary to retro to East African. This is clearly the work of women who have applied their talents to transform an empty storefront into a destination for shoppers looking for fashions at affordable prices.
All true. But there’s more to the Sisterhood story, which defies all the usual expectations. It was started by group of young Somali women who noticed how much fun their brothers and male classmates had running a coffee shop at the Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.
“We felt like there were not a lot of activities for girls in the community,” remembers Khadra Fiqi, an assistant at the store who was a Minneapolis South High School student at the time. “So we had a meeting of girls to talk about what we wanted to do. There’s a strength in girls and we wanted to do something for our community to create more opportunity.”
They agreed to start a women’s clothing store, and quickly came up with the name Sisterhood of the Traveling Scarf, based partly on the movie and novel “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” And based partly on the fact that, as Fiqi says, “scarves are something that unite all women, and we are a sisterhood of women.”
“We went around to other stores to see what businesses are like,” recalls Fiqi, now a first-year student at Metro State University, “and we learned a lot about commitment — if you’re committed to something you can make it happen. Women with passion and power can help ourselves and help our community.”
From sorting to selling
Fiqi explains that she and her colleagues do everything it takes to run the business, “from sorting the clothes, tagging them, cleaning the store, being at the front as a cashier. I always thought of myself as a science person, not a business person. But now I am going to minor in business in college.”
The experience of opening the store helped Fiqi feel more at home in Minneapolis. “I was really surprised about all the support from people we don’t really know — people at Augsburg College and around the community.”
Stella Richardson, a management major at Augsburg, was one of those who pitched into help launch the boutique. While still in high school, she had started the Express Yourself Clothing store on Selby Avenue in St. Paul as part of an after-school youth program. “I told the girls about my experience and came to their meetings. As they were opening the store, I taught some business classes to them at the Brian Coyle Center.”
“They asked all the same questions I was asking when I started my store,” Richardson says. She notes that their boutique was even funded by one of the same organizations that financed her business, Sundance Family Foundation. Other funders of the Sisterhood Boutique were Augsburg College, Fairview Health Services, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, the Marbrook Foundation and the Women Investing in the Next Generation (WINGs) Fund of the Greater Twin Cities United Way.
Augsburg students helped them devise a business plan, implement a marketing plan and design a logo, and offered informal advice on how to attract young customers studying and working on the nearby campuses of Augsburg, the U of M, St. Catherine University and the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital.
“The store is changing the way the community perceives girls — in Somali culture girls are the most protected part of the community,” says Amano Dube, director of the Brian Coyle Community Center. “This project shows what they can do on their own.”
Dube said that when a group of local leaders involved with the Faith in the City initiative toured the neighborhood — including Rulon Stacey, CEO of Fairview Health Services, which owns a brick storefront on Riverside Avenue that is adjacent to its University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital — “Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow brought them to the Brian Coyle Center and I took them into the leadership training class with the young people, who told them about the store.”
“Mary Laurel True [Augsburg’s director of community engagement] was leading the tour, and she suddenly announces that the girls would really like to have that building on Riverside Avenue,” remembers Pribbenow. Twenty-four hours later the president of Fairview called Pribbenow and said the boutique could have the building for free.
“We had the space available,” Stacey says, “and want to be a meaningful partner in the neighborhood. We’re really excited about it.”
Stacey was on hand at the boutique’s Grand Opening last summer, posing for a photo with the young proprietors in front of shop windows artfully displaying sundresses. Indeed, it was an all-out community event. Amano Dube, Mary Laurel True, Stella Richardson and a number of young shoppers were part of the celebration.
“I’m really excited about it,” said shopper Elena Eveslage. “It’s a good place to get good, cheap clothes, and a great opportunity for young women to learn business skills.”
20 trained so far
Fadumo Mohamed, a student at Minneapolis Southwest High School, was part of planning meetings and jumped at the chance to work at the store. “This is my first real job. It’s really good here, getting closer to people in the community, working with people my own age, learning about business. It will all be on my résumé.”
Store manager Laurine Chang, who is also a youth social entrepreneur coordinator for Pillsbury United Communities, notes that 20 young women have been trained so far to work in the store. For three months they “learn about leadership, empowerment, personal and professional development, how to engage in the community, financial literacy, customer service, time management and business management.”
“The girls themselves felt there was a need for more opportunities for women in the neighborhood,” Chang says. “This project really is young people taking the initiative by responding to what the community needs.”
WASHINGTON – A 20-year-old Minnesota woman was charged on Tuesday with stealing a friend’s passport to travel to Syria, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
The criminal complaint alleged that Yusra Ismail, of St. Paul, used the stolen U.S. passport to fly to Amsterdam and Norway last August.
She contacted her family several days later and told them she was in “Sham,” a term used to describe the area controlled by Islamic State, the militant group that has captured territory in Syria and Iraq and carried out gruesome executions of civilians and foreigners.
Prosecutors said there is no record of Ismail, who is not a U.S. citizen, returning to the United States. She had booked a return ticket, according to the complaint, but there is no record of any traveler using that ticket.
U.S. authorities for years have been concerned about the number of young Somali-Americans traveling from the Minneapolis area, which has a large community of Somali expatriates, to join al Shabaab, a militant Al Qaeda affiliate based in Somalia.
The new case comes one week after the same office charged two Minnesota men of Somali ancestry, ages 18 and 20, with supporting Islamic State.
Last summer, FBI officials said they had begun tracking a trickle of Somali-Americans from the Twin Cities area to Syria in general and to Islamic State-held areas in particular.
FBI Director James Comey said last month his agency was tracking close to 150 Americans it believed had traveled to Syria. A federal official said authorities believe about a dozen Americans were fighting there with the Islamic State.
(Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha; editing by Gunna Dickson)
To find out more about the current situation in East Africa, we spoke with Degan Ali, the Somali-American executive director of Adeso (African Development Solutions), a Nairobi-based humanitarian and development organization focusing on aid, education — particularly among nomadic populations — and community-based economic growth. Formerly known as Horn Relief, the organization was founded in the early 1990s by Ali’s mother, Fatima Jibrell, in response to their homeland’s devastating civil war.
Adeso does work in Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan. Ali spoke with Goats and Soda earlier this month.
Let’s talk about your homeland, Somalia. It’s been three years since the devastating famine that struck in 2011. How are things now?
Somalia is just getting out of its second famine in recent years, the first one being in the early ’90s. We still have a situation where there are millions of people in south Somalia and parts of the north who are food-insecure. There are still more than a million internally displaced people. So the message to the international community would be that yes, things did improve and we left famine conditions in 2013, but we still have an unacceptable number of people who are hungry and food-insecure. We need to start addressing some of the root causes of these problems.
What are some of those root causes?
In the north, it’s cycles of drought and hunger that are linked to environmental degradation. Poor rangeland management and poor natural resource planning — because there was no government for 20years — as well as larger issues like climate change are expanding the deserts in Africa and all over the world.
It was [my mother's] idea to start putting in these very low-tech physical structures — basically, strategically placed rocks — to harvest rainwater and move it in a way that it spreads out andregenerates the grasslands. We’ve had so much success with these rock dams since 2001 that the European Commission came to us a few years ago and said they wanted to work with us to scale it up. So now we’re implementing a 14 million-euro program on that kind of physical rehabilitation of the rangeland.
What lessons do you think the international community could learn from Somalia’s 2011 famine?
In Somalia, 260,000 people died in the famine, over a billion dollars was spent trying to save them, and now we still have more than 300,000 people living in refugee camps in Dadaab that we are spending money on every single day. If we had only spent half of that money on predictable cash transfers, a safety net program could have supported the same households, in their homes and villages, in the breadbasket of Somalia. That kind of social protection — predictable cash transfers — is very simple, but it requires a new way of thinking.
You think aid organizations should simply give people cash?
Yes, we believe that if the bottom 5 to 10 percent of society in Somalia had more predictable resources, they could make longer-term decisions that would rebuild their asset base and make them more resilient.
For example, say you’re a Somali woman, a farmer, experiencing the drought of 2011. And you know that you can get $30 a month for two years for staying in your home. Or you could trek hundreds of miles, risking your children’s lives, to try to reach a refugee camp that you think might exist somewhere out there. What would you do? Of course you would hunker down and try to get through the drought, surviving on your predictable $30-a-month transfer.
What’s wrong with just sending food to hungry people?
In many cases, it’s not an issue of food availability. It’s an issue of purchasing power and keeping the local economy going. And it’s an issue of empowerment. That word gets used a lot by people who still want to maintain control and tell aid recipients what they need. But what it should ultimately mean is that the person who receives the aid is given as much dignity and control as possible.
But many of us face this dilemma when we see a needy person on the street. If we give them money, how do we know they’ll really use it for food?
If you were in the same situation, wouldn’t you want people to feel that you are a responsible person? And all the evidence suggests that most of the recipients of these cash transfers make very responsible decisions. All the monitoring and evaluation data indicates that people use the money to purchase not only needed goods and services, but also to pay off debts — which is really interesting. That means they value their social capital and are thinking about the long term, not just their immediate needs. The debt is for meeting immediate needs, which is the normal cycle for pastoralists: They purchase goods during the dry season for food and water on credit, but then they need to pay it back during the rainy season.
I noticed on your Twitter profile that you describe yourself as a “social justice activist, Muslima.” How are those connected?
I think my religion heavily informs both my values and the work that I do. In Islam, there is a core principle of mandatory charitable giving called zakat. I think in English you call it tithing. Every single Muslim has to give 2.5 percent of his or her wealth — if they’re not using it — to support orphans, hungry and needy people.
Two women wipe away tears during a gathering to honor Adullahi Anshoor,64, of Brooklyn Park, who was killed in his native Somalia after returning to his homeland to help rebuilt it and was fatally shot on November 17, 2014. Residents of Afton Alps Apartments gathered to honor the man who worked there over a decade. These women asked to not be indentified. (Pioneer Press: Sherri LaRose-Chiglo)
TWIN CITIES DAILY PLANET
A group of more than 75 people gathered at the Afton View Apartments in St. Paul to honor a man who gave his heart to the Twin Cities and his life for his native country.
Abdullahi Ali Anshoor, 64, of Brooklyn Park worked as property manager for the Battle Creek-area apartment complex for about 14 years, said co-worker Amy Berger, who helped organize the gathering.
He was killed Monday in Mogadishu, Somalia, when armed militants from the Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab stopped his vehicle and sprayed it with bullets, police Capt. Mohamed Hussein told the Associated Press.
Trained as an urban planner and civil engineer, Anshoor returned there last year with his wife to help the Mogadishu government with planning and drainage systems.
“We are here to express our condolences to his family and to his friends,” said Said Ali of East African Community Link. “He was a great man. He was a father, a son … and the community at large is mourning his death.”
Abdisalam Adam, a teacher at St. Paul’s Central High School and imam at Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Minneapolis, used to teach at Highwood Hills Elementary School, which is across the street from the Afton View Apartments.
He and Anshoor, who was well-known in the Somali-American community, often worked together on educational issues, Adam said.
Adam encouraged the group not to be discouraged by Anshoor’s killing.
“His death should not scare us,” but rather provide more determination to rebuild Somalia, he said.
The gathering included Somali-American residents of the apartment complex as well as former colleagues of Anshoor’s.
Debra Godland said she worked with Anshoor until 2011.
“Anshoor is the most loyal and trustworthy gentleman I have ever had the pleasure of knowing,” she said. He was instrumental in organizing National Night Out get-togethers at the apartments and “thought of all of you as his family.”
Anshoor was born in Mogadishu and graduated from college there. He received a scholarship to study in the United States, and earned a master’s degree from California State University in Fresno in 1986, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Rep. Keith Ellison fires up the crowd at the DFL headquarters at the Minneapolis Hilton Hotel on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Voters are sending Democrat Keith Ellison back to Congress for a fifth term representing Minnesota’s urban 5th District.
Ellison defeated Republican businessman Doug Daggett and Independence Party candidate Lee Bauer, a machinist.
Ellison was the first Muslim elected to the U.S. House and the first black elected to Congress from Minnesota. He’s been a champion for progressive causes and speaks out frequently on Mideast and African issues.
The 5th District, which includes Minneapolis and several inner suburbs, is the most heavily Democratic congressional district in the state.
Hani Jacobson is an OB-GYN nurse at CentraCare Health Plaza. She moved to America from Mogadishu, Somalia when she was eight years old. Photo: Kimm Anderson
It was 2005 and then 21-year-old Hani Jacobson was visiting family in St. Cloud.
The Somali-American’s stay was supposed to be temporary. But after filling in for her sister at her job at the Whitney Center, fate had other ideas.
“My first impression was she was beautiful, hard-working and smart,” said her husband Nathan Jacobson.
Nathan was volunteering at Whitney Center when the two met. He grew up in Borup and initially came to the area to attend St. Cloud State University.
Hani and Nathan wed in March 2007. They now live in a north St. Cloud home with their three children: a 6-year-old son named Gabriel, a 3-year-old daughter named Layla and a 1-year-old son named Elijah.
“My first impression of Nathan is that he was really caring to newcomers, especially people from my community,” Hani said. “He really cared about the new immigrants.”
Hani also noticed an opportunity to make a difference in St. Cloud’s growing Somali community.
She was born to an upper-middle class family in Mogadishu, Somalia, and escaped to refugee camps in Kenya when she was 7. It was 1991, and the Somali civil war had begun. She made it to the U.S. through the World Relief organization at age 9 in 1993 and grew up in an Atlanta suburb. Hani had also lived in Seattle and Nashville prior to coming to St. Cloud.
“I noticed there was a great need here for someone in the Somali community with an American education,” Hani said. “Where I grew up by Atlanta, the people (had) left way earlier in the civil war. Most were wealthier, from Mogadishu and had an educational background. It was way easier for us to start lives as Americans.
“Whereas the immigrants who are coming to St. Cloud now were more like villagers or kids that grew up or were born in refugee camps.”
Hani is now an OB-GYN nurse at CentraCare Health Plaza, working with women of all cultures. She previously worked with Somali students in the St. Cloud school district, and she helped teach Somalis English and basic computer skills at the Whitney Senior Center and the BRIDGE World Language Center in Waite Park.
Nathan teaches English as a Second Language courses at St. Cloud Technical & Community College.
“It’s funny because my husband is kind of more known than I am among Somali people,” Hani said.
Hani, who has worked regularly since she turned 16 to help support her parents and 11 siblings, accomplished a lifelong goal by attending college in St. Cloud.
While she’s sacrificed her initial goal of supervising childbirth so she can spend more time with her family, Hani said she enjoys her current job working with pregnant women.
But her life in the U.S. hasn’t always been as prosperous or as full of acceptance.
“Before the war, my dad worked really hard and we lived an upper-middle class life,” Hani said. “After coming to America we thought: ‘Everything is going to be great again. We are going to get our lives back.’
“But things were much harder than we anticipated.”
Hani’s family initially settled in Clarkston, Georgia, a popular relocation for the first wave of Somali civil war refugees.
“It was a predominately African-American community but they had never heard of Somalis or Somali people,” Hani said. “It was like we weren’t welcome.”
Hani said Somalis were often bullied, including her brother who was once beaten into a coma at school.
“Fortunately, as time went on things got better,” Hani said.
And after multiple stops and struggles, she’s found the American dream in St. Cloud.
Growing up in 2 cultures
When you ask Nathan and Hani’s 6-year-old son what his first name is, the answer depends on who is asking.
When it’s Nathan’s family from Borup or other English speakers asking, the son’s response is “Gabriel.”
When it’s Hani’s family from Mogadishu or members of the local Somali community, the son’s response is “Jibril,” which is the Arabic equivalent of Gabriel.
“He already knows the difference,” Hani said. “Lately he’s been noticing the two cultures.”
Nathan and Hani hope their son takes the most positive qualities from each culture.
Minneapolis — Salah Ahmed wanted to become a cop ever since he moved to the United States from Egypt.
On the other hand, Abdiwahab Ali’s interests gravitated to law enforcement after 9/11 — several years after he moved from Somalia to Minnesota in 1995. After becoming a Minneapolis Police Department officer, he went on to help establish the Somali American Police Association.
Ahmed, who is originally from Somalia, reached his goal when he graduated from the police academy last year. In addition to being an officer for the Metro Transit Police Department, he now serves as SAPA’s vice chairman.
Founded in in 2012, SAPA helps Somali-Americans, like Ahmed, find their way into police forces across the nation.
The national organization has at least 10 members — all law enforcement officers — in the Twin Cities. They are working to stop potential recruitment of Somali-Americans by terrorist groups, like al-Shabab and the Islamic State, in the city’s Cedar-Riverside and Franklin Avenue neighborhoods.
Ahmed said he has ample opportunities to talk face to face with young people in the area and recognize early warning signs of recruitment.
SAPA has been successful so far, he said, citing a recent incident in which Cedar-Riverside residents were afraid a fellow mosque-goer was trying to recruit overseas fighters, so they called police.
“The Somali community is very educated about recruitment,” Ahmed said.
Voluntary community-police communication would be impossible without a diverse police force, Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington said.
“[Officers] meet probably once a month with elders from the Somali community to have an ongoing conversation about this concern we have that individuals are being recruited,” he said.
To help counteract and stop local terrorist influences, Ahmed said it’s important to have continued contact with organizations and neighborhood groups, like Mothers Against Youth Recruitment, which held an October meeting.
Harrington said multiple law enforcement agencies — including the state’s U.S. Attorney’s Office and the St. Paul Police Department — are coordinating to address the problem.
“What do you say to young people that are being told, ‘This is the right thing to do as a Muslim,’ or ‘This is the right thing to do as a Somali or as an African?’” Harrington said.
SAPA officers are role models for East African community members — especially among the youngest generations. They also have the added advantage of understanding Somali and Muslim customs, Harrington said, and are further relatable since most are near the age of those targeted by overseas organizations.
Harrington said the only way to foster trust between officers and the people they serve is to build a police department that reflects its communities.
“You don’t have to turn on the news more than a minute to see an example of what happens when there is a breakdown in that relationship between a police department and their community,” Harrington said.
With six to eight full- and part-time officers of Somali descent serving in the Metro Transit Police Department, Harrington said the department still has room for improvement — they’d like to recruit Somali women to the force.
“This is really just the beginning,” Harrington said. “I’m happy with it. I just can’t say I’m satisfied.”
According to Ali, St. Paul’s police department employs one female Somali-American, but she isn’t a sworn officer.
Minneapolis police Public Information Officer John Elder said MPD employs about a half a dozen Somali-American officers, which includes the nation’s first sergeant of Somali descent.
“Our Somali officers are really respected by the community, and … it’s a lot of fun to watch them work,” Elder said. “When they walk into a meeting, they’re like celebrities.”
He said their presence within MPD attracts esteem from both inside and outside the department.
“We’re looking for all members of the community, from all different communities, to come work for MPD,” Elder said. “We are yearning for diversity.”
MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -The Cedar Riverside Community School girls’ basketball team is asking for parents’ opinions about their new uniforms. The girls designed the options themselves to be both religiously appropriate according to Somali culture, with a little help from the University of Minnesota. Parents were invited to see the unveiling and share their thoughts Wednesday evening at the Brian Coyle Center.
On Wednesday nights, the gym at the Brian Coyle Center is “NBA” — no boys allowed. However, playing sports can be difficult for the girls, who are from East Africa, because they have to be covered from head to toe.
“Seeing them trip over their skirts, seeing them not be able to be safe and be active at the same time is really hard,” coach Jennifer Weber said.
That’s why the girls, with some help from grad students at the University of Minnesota, came up with several designs for new sports uniforms that are both culturally and religiously appropriate. Some even got to model the final four to get feedback from their parents and community members. The uniforms are made with wicking fabrics that move perspiration away from their bodies to keep them from overheating. Plus, since they’re designed for young girls, there was plenty of pink involved.
The G.I.R.L.S program received a grant from the Extension Service at the U of M to work on the designs and prototypes. Organizers hope to find women in the Somali community to sew the uniforms by next spring after the vote, then, they’ll have a community fashion show.
As an outer-ring, affluent suburb, Eden Prairie may seem an unlikely city to draw a growing refugee community. But 17 years ago, Somali-Americans like Asad Aliweyd moved there for its top-ranked schools, safe community and job opportunities.
Now, nearly two decades later, Eden Prairie has the third-largest Somali population in the Twin Cities, next to Minneapolis and St. Paul, according to the city, with an estimated 3,500 to 5,000 residents.
The Somali language is second only to English in Eden Prairie schools. The police department has its first Somali police reserve officer. And the city has Somali businesses, including a halal grocery store, and two mosques.
“Eden Prairie is more welcoming to Somalis than anywhere else,” said Aliweyd, a former math teacher who now runs a center providing classes for Somali youth and adults.
But he and other Somali leaders are pushing for more support from the city and school district, and for more affordable housing as the city plans for development along the future Southwest Corridor light-rail line. There, Aliweyd envisions a multicultural market like Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market and more affordable apartments.
“In Eden Prairie, we are in an island,” he said of Somali resources. “If we weren’t here, no one would be doing this.”
City and school leaders say they are providing free resources to residents for everything from finding housing to filling out job applications, hosting a popular monthly program for Somali mothers and having Somali-speaking coordinators to help families.
“We’re trying to help them out the best we can with limited budgets,” City Council Member Brad Aho said.
Like other Twin Cities suburbs, Eden Prairie has grown increasingly diverse in recent years. Yet the affluent suburb may be known more for housing the Vikings practice facility and one of the few gated country-club communities in the metro than for its immigrant communities.
The city, on the edge of Hennepin County 15 miles southwest of downtown Minneapolis, had a 96 percent white population nearly 25 years ago, according to census data. Now, that’s dropped to about 80 percent. Among immigrant groups moving to the 62,000-resident suburb have been Russians, Indians and Somalis.
Wanted: Affordable housing
But it’s been challenging for immigrants seeking affordable housing in a city with only 10 percent affordable housing and a median household income of $93,000.
“There is really a housing equality problem in Eden Prairie,” said Mohamed Arab, who says he was the first Somali resident in Eden Prairie to buy a house years ago; he now owns a day care in Shakopee.
Since 2004, no affordable rental units have been built in Eden Prairie, according to the Met Council, which recommends that Eden Prairie add 1,844 new affordable units from 2010 to 2020. City leaders say they hope to repurpose existing buildings into affordable units through subsidies, since the city is mostly developed. The city also has an affordable homeownership program to help low-income residents.
“We’ve done the best we can with the existing housing stock,” Aho said. “I think we have a mix all the way from $3 million homes to $100,000 units.”
Other cities operate their own low-income apartments, but Eden Prairie hasn’t gotten into that business.
“They’d rather run liquor stores,” said Ahmed Jama, a longtime resident and business owner, adding that he wants the city and police to employ more Somali residents. “The question is what is the city doing for diversity? And that [answer] is zero.”
From an office in the lower level of the Eden Prairie Center mall, Mohamed Duale sees a different picture. As the city’s immigrant liaison, he says he helps 20 to 30 people each day — mostly fellow Somalis — with everything from finding housing to connecting them with social services and jobs.
“When I moved here, there was nothing,” he said of the Somali community and resources in 2003. Now, he said, “compared to Minneapolis, we have nothing. But compared to other suburbs, we have a lot of resources.”
The school district, which also has a Somali communications coordinator, has free classes for Somali- and Spanish-speaking parents, teaching them everything from what a GPA is to how to help their children plan for college. School libraries have Somali storybooks. And the district’s website is translated into 11 languages — from Arabic to Portuguese — and recently added Somali.
“The city and school district have been doing things for the community for at least a decade,” said Nanette Missaghi, the district’s equity and integration coordinator. “We are trying to be culturally relevant not just for Somali students, but all of the students.”
And the need is growing.
According to 2013-14 data, 610 students identified Somali as their home language, far greater than Spanish or other foreign languages, and up from 489 students in 2010.
‘The need is huge’
To help Somali students, Aliweyd started the New American Academy in 2008 to provide after-school tutoring. In 2011, he opened an office in a business district on the border of Edina and Eden Prairie off Hwy. 169. It’s grown into a major community gathering spot and resource for Somali residents.
The academy just wrapped up a health care pilot program with Somali adults on chronic illnesses like obesity. After-school tutoring has shifted to youth leadership programs for Minneapolis, Bloomington and Eden Prairie students. And there’s a weekly evening entrepreneurship class for adults.
“I don’t know where I’d start,” Hodan Duale said as she pored over a binder in the class, hoping to start her own after-school activities for kids. “This is an opportunity to give us hope and dream.”
Aliweyd says city staff have been collaborating more with community leaders like him. He’s also gotten help from Allina Health, which provided the health care pilot program. The Corridors of Opportunity awarded him a grant to engage the Somali community in planning for businesses, jobs and housing along the light rail. And the Neighborhood Development Center in St. Paul provided the business curriculum.
“We want to be part of the community, but we have obstacles and issues,” he said. “The need is huge.
Minneapolis sister city vote is small gesture, big moment for Somali community
Minneapolis’ first Somali-American City Council member had said only a few words about the city becoming the first in the U.S. to add a sister city in Somalia before he began to choke up.
Abdi Warsame paused and looked out into the council chambers, packed Thursday afternoon with Somali supporters who stood shoulder to shoulder and spilled out into the hallway and nearby rooms. Some carried Somali flags and several had pulled on T-shirts reading “I (heart) Minneapolis” and “I (heart) Bosaso”. Photographers and video crews from Somali media outlets jostled for position in the crowd, trying to capture the moment.
All seemed to be waiting anxiously for the kind of vote that usually goes by without much fuss. If approved by this council committee, Bosaso, Somalia, would be No. 12 on Minneapolis’ already long list of sister cities. But Warsame, clearing his throat, said this vote was different.
“What it means to Somalis is emotional for me to think about,” he said. “Because for over 25 years, Somalis have suffered a great deal. They’ve been isolated and we grew up in a very tough time. So what this means to us is it means that isolation — we have hope that isolation is going to be over.”
Other council members agreed, unanimously approving the proposal to make the port city of Bosaso a sister to a city that’s become home to thousands of Somalis.
Organizers of the effort said they hope the partnership will provide opportunities for cultural and business exchanges, noting that Bosaso is a telecommunications hub and already home to manybusinesses with Minnesota ties. The city sits in a region that has several leaders who were born or spent time in Minnesota, and Warsame said a large number of Somalis in Minneapolis are from the area. Over the past two decades, Bosaso has become a home to many Somalis fleeing other war-torn cities — much like Minneapolis.
Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden recalled her work as an attorney in the 1990s, assisting Somali refugees trying to build new lives in Minnesota. She said many have stayed, put down roots and consider this city as their home.
“You have changed the city of Minneapolis,” Glidden told the crowd at Thursday’s meeting. “You have changed the state of Minnesota. It is a better city because of your contributions. It’s about time we have a sister city relationship.”
After the vote, supporters cheered and embraced. Some wiped away tears.
Khadija Ali, who runs an interpretive service company, said she was excited for her two young daughters, both born in the U.S. Ali said the sister city link will help show young people that Minneapolis is interested in Somalia — and all the people with ties to that country.
She said Somalis’ greater community involvement can provide important inspiration; her daughter, after learning Warsame had been elected to the City Council, ran for a council position at her school.
“It’s an exciting day in a way because it’s like the welcome we have felt has been extended beyond us, to the Somali people back home,” Ali said.
Degha Shabbeleh, a member of Minnesota Friends of Bosaso, the group that helped put together the sister city proposal, said the new relationship feels like a recognition of Somalis’ presence in the world.
“Today for me, it’s like I’m on the radar,” she said. “I’m here. You can see me now.”
Addressing concerns over terrorism, Warsame said he sees danger in avoiding new ties with Somalia. The way to build trust and support for the U.S., he said, is to make more Somalis feel welcomed, to build lives here and serve the community as members of the military or police and fire departments.
“I think this message is a positive message,” Warsame said of the sister city arrangement. “And it’s a message that I always kind of knew: The people in Minnesota are the best people in the world. And that’s why I was very emotional. I knew it couldn’t happen anywhere else. It could only happen in Minneapolis.”
The votes of the Somali community will play a big role in the upcoming election for House District 60B.
On Election Day, Abdimalik Askar is hoping to topple a candidate who has served more than 40 years in office.
State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, who has served 21 terms in the state House of Representatives, is facing GOP candidate Askar in November’s election. The candidates are vying for the seat that represents the University of Minnesota and its surrounding neighborhoods.
Despite Kahn’s strong, extensive history in the state Legislature, Askar says he’s not backing down and is looking for a victory on Nov. 4.
Between door-knocking and increased phone banking, both campaigns are well underway with less than a month until voters take to the polls.
Both Kahn and Askar’s campaigns voiced confidence, citing student-centric issues as main points, such as financial support for students at the University.
Askar said if he’s elected, he’ll focus on job availability and education reform.
Both candidates are vying for support from the area’s Somali community, which makes up a significant portion of the district.
Kahn defeated Mohamud Noor, who commanded a sizable Somali following, in the August primary election that determined which candidate received the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party spot on the ballot. At that time, Kahn said she had always represented the Somali community well.
Askar said he also has strong support from the area’s East African population.
As an immigrant from Somalia, Askar came to the United States to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He is currently working on completing his doctorate.
“He’s someone who can understand the American life and build a bridge between those two cultures,” said Abdirizak Alibos, Askar’s campaign manager.
Alibos said he worked for Kahn’s campaign in the past, but he eventually switched parties. As a community activist, he said he didn’t think DFL leaders were doing enough for the public.
Kahn said she has excelled while serving in the state Legislature, creating strong relationships with officials on both sides of the aisle.
She also said she’s confident that she can secure many of the votes from the district’s Somali community, adding that people within the community are strong supporters of the DFL party.
But Askar’s campaign believes otherwise.
Askar emphasized his support for education reform in the district’s Somali community, where he said graduation rates aren’t where he would like them to be.
Kahn said her campaign is using many tactics it’s used in the past. She said it is relying on volunteers in lieu of a campaign manager and is working in “autopilot” mode.
Both Kahn and Askar said they have plans to support University students.
Askar said he intends to advocate for subsidized or low-income apartment housing for students. He also said he would like to expand the job market for college students needing work.
However, Kahn said she is unsure her opponent is willing to support the necessary tax hikes to provide financial assistance to the University.
“I am a strong supporter of adequate financial support for the University,” she said. “Unfortunately, taxes are the price that we pay for a good civilization.”
But Askar said a familiar face in office isn’t always a plus.
“When a politician has been in office for a long term, sometimes they forget to advocate for newcomers,” Askar said.
If City Council approves, it would be a first for any U.S. city.
Somali leaders in Minneapolis will ask the City Council this week to consider adding a Somali community to its list of sister cities — a move that would be a first for any American city.
The proposal, which has support from a long list of Somalibusiness, cultural and community groups, along with local elected officials, calls for Minneapolis to partner with Bosaso, Somalia’s third-largest city. It’s a diverse port city on the northern end of the country, home to people who have fled other areas during Somalia’s civil war — and a large number of residents with connections to Minnesota.
Council Member Abdi Warsame, the first Somali-American elected in Minneapolis, said a sister-city arrangement would formalize the many informal relationships that already exist between the two communities. Several local business owners also have businesses in Bosaso and many of the items in the Somali Artifact and Cultural Museum, near E. Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue S., are from the region.
Perhaps even more importantly, Warsame said, a sister-city agreement would help raise Somalia’s status in the United States and the rest of the world.
“I think it will galvanize the Somali community in the United States as a whole,” he said.
Bosaso would be Minneapolis’ 10th sister city.
But Warsame and others said they expect Minneapolis’ relationship with Bosaso would go further than just adding another pin on a world map.
Mohamed Jama, general director of the Cedar Riverside Youth Council, said he’s hopeful the arrangement could foster exchange programs for young people in both countries. He said opening young men and women’s eyes to what life is like in other parts of the world could have a big effect — even in fighting efforts by terrorist groups to recruit Somalis.
“We’re very energized about it,” Jama said. “It’s an opportunity to give people a glimpse of what hope really is and creating that hope for them. In places like Africa there is a dire need for that.”
Osman Ahmed, vice chairman of the Somali American Chamber of Commerce, said Bosaso is a major hub of the telecommunications industry, which makes it a good fit for sharedbusiness development. He also expects that a closer relationship with Minneapolis could help give Somalis a better understanding of American culture — and in turn push back against radical political movements.
“We’ve been working for a long time to bring the two cities together, culturally and also in education,” he said. “And in all aspects of human development.”
The proposal will go before the council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee on Thursday, where Warsame expects it will find advocates.
“I think there’s a lot of support on the council for it,” he said. “And I think this is a historic moment.”
Minneapolis – Dozens of Somali community members concerned about the recruitment of local youth into extremist groups called for more resources to help combat the radicalization of their children.
More than 60 people at the Brian Coyle Community Center inMinneapolis on Sunday heard Somali leaders, an imam and U.S. Attorney Andy Luger call for more expanded efforts to support Somali youth, more mentorship of youth by elders and increased partnerships between the community and law enforcement.
Minneapolis resident Ali Hayle said previous pledges by authorities to work with the community left him jaded when they didn’t seem to follow through with action. But Hayle said he left Sunday’s town hall meeting optimistic about the community’s future and the speakers’ sincerity.
“Hopefully, things will change,” Hayle said.
Several Minnesota youths recruited to fight in Somalia or Syria have died on those battlefields.
Hayle and other speakers said a key to fighting the recruitment of youth into terrorist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Al-Shabab, an Al-Qaida-linked group, is creating an environment in Minnesota where Somalis and other immigrants feel welcomed and have opportunities to succeed.
Amano Dube, director of the Brian Coyle Community Center, said investing in education and after school programs will give youth the skills and opportunities to pursue other avenues in life.
“If we have … programs like that, no one will choose negativity,” Dube said.
Activist Ilhan Omar said that conversations about fighting radicalism often focus on younger children, when most of the approximately 20 people recruited out of Minnesota were older than 22 at the time. Omar said many youths become vulnerable during high school when they face an identity crisis about what it means to be Somali, Muslim and an American.
She urged community members to take it upon themselves to combat radicalization.
“We shouldn’t just think about financial resources,” Omar said, “but about how each of us can be a resource for that young person who is struggling.”
Luger told the crowd that quashing the discrimination Somalis face here will help address the “root cause” of radicalization.
He said some Somalis have expressed concern about treatment at the airport, prompting a meeting with community members and the Transportation Security Administration at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport that Luger called one step in many toward ending the recruitment of Somali youth.
Luger pledged to take community members with him to a meeting at the White House in October addressing the recruitment of Somali youth.
“I want you to know this is not an attack on the Somali community,” Luger said of the fight against radicalization. “This is something we’re doing together.”
Ahmed Ali Said, a Somali-American running for the Ward 3 city council seat in St. Cloud, Minn. sits down to dinner with his family at TGI Fridays in St. Cloud on Wednesday, September 17, 2014. From left is Ahmed Ali Said, his son Suhayb Ali, 2, daughter... Photo: Leila Navidi
ST. CLOUD, MINN. – Almost every evening, Abdul Kulane walks the streets of modest houses near downtown, hopeful that when he rings doorbells he’ll get a warm reception from whoever answers.
“Hello,” he says cheerfully through his Somali accent. “My name is Abdul. I am running for City Council.”
Kulane, a 32-year-old graduate of St. John’s University, is one of two Somali council candidates this year, marking the first time that Somali-American citizens have filed for city election here. A third is running for school board. By all accounts, it’s a significant step in this central Minnesota town of about 65,000, which has had a history of cultural tension with the immigrant group.
“It’s a sign of the times,” said Stephen Philion, professor of sociology at St. Cloud State University and chair of the nonprofit Greater Minnesota Worker Center. “They’ve organized the way that other [immigrant] groups previously have organized. Now they’re looking for a seat at the table … They’re a group that should no longer be taken as outsiders. They are St. Cloud.”
Philion said the racial hostility they faced may have had unintended consequences of giving the Somali community “a greater sense of commitment to fighting for political power.”
Kulane, who has lived in the city’s Ward 1 since 2006, is careful not to campaign on issues of diversity. He talks to potential constituents about crime, about property values, rental properties and abandoned houses, about revitalizing St. Cloud’s core neighborhoods.
“It’s not a Somali issue, it’s a city issue,” he says.
But he acknowledges, too, that part of the reason he’s running is to try to bridge a gap of misunderstanding between the immigrant community and the larger community.
Last year, when leaders of the local Islamic Center tried to build a second and larger mosque on a vacant parcel of land in town, residents complained about traffic and parking, but city officials also were sent dozens of nasty e-mails and postings on the city’s website. Center leaders abandoned their building plans.
In 2010, incidents of harassment against Somali students led to a Department of Education’s civil rights investigation in the school district.
Also that year, a Somali grocery owner found red spray-painted graffiti saying “Go Home” on the front of his store; online, someone posted a threatening message about an upcoming Somali cultural event; cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed in derogatory ways were posted in front of a mosque and Somali-owned store.
The racial strife dates to as early as 2002, a few years after Somalis began moving to the area in greater numbers.
Somali leaders say that the incidents were the work of a small number of people, and that they trust the hatred is not the sentiment of most people in the region.
Two of the three Somali candidates running for public office survived primary voting here in August: Kulane and incumbent Dave Masters survived a field of three to be on the November ballot; Hassan Yussuf remained in the top six — by one vote — out of seven original candidates for three school board spots.
City Council candidate Ahmed Said was the only candidate to file against incumbent John Libert in Ward 3.
New level of acceptance
Islamic Center of St. Cloud Imam Mohamed Dahir smiled brightly, his eyes sparkling when he talked about how excited and proud the Somali community is to see three candidates on the ballot, though the mosque doesn’t directly endorse candidates, he said.
Immigrants view it as a sign of a new level of acceptance, he said: “That gap will be eliminated because people will learn more about you.”
Jama Alimad, executive director of the nonprofit Community Grassroots Solution, which helps new immigrants write resumes and find jobs and housing, said the candidacies are “a big deal” in Somali circles, especially with two surviving primaries. The elections also are engaging the immigrant community to better understand democracy.
“Everywhere you go, they are talking about this, [asking] is it possible?” he said. “This is America … Whoever is a citizen of this country that can vote are game changers.”
Candidates know they won’t win on Somali votes alone. Though there are no credible statistics on how large the St. Cloud area Somali population might be, a common estimate is 8,000 to 10,000, Philion said. Some estimate more. Other estimates based on census data are as low as about 4,500 foreign-born people living here.
Nearly one in five students in the St. Cloud Area School District are Somali language speakers.
Yussuf, a tax preparer, said he decided to run for school board because education is important to him; he has a bachelor’s degree from St. Cloud State and a master’s from Minnesota State University, Mankato.
He said he wants to engage more parents in narrowing the achievement gap. Though he unsuccessfully ran for school board in 2010, he said, this time the larger community has seemed more welcoming.
“They respond better. They listen,” he said. “The fact that they listen to you shows that they care. I think the tension is dying.”
Said, a medical interpreter, said he hasn’t been to Somalia in decades, doesn’t have close family there anymore, and fully considers St. Cloud his home — his three children were born here and will have a future here, he said.
“It’s not about Somali-Americans running” for office, he said. “It’s about what’s good for this country.”
Stressing neighborhood ties
The first voter Kulane met on a recent afternoon was 85-year-old Billy Paschall, who has lived in his house for 36 years. Paschall looked skeptical when he opened the door, but quickly warmed up to Kulane.
“Do you have any questions of me?” Kulane asked, dressed in a bright turquoise dress shirt. “Do you know your neighbors? … Part of why I’m running is to make sure that we are a community. Make sure that we get together.”
Paschall, a stars-and-stripes baseball cap atop his head, nodded softly. He’d seen Kulane’s brochure, he said, and he liked Kulane’s ideas.
Yes, Paschall said, he could count on his vote in November.
Paschall, a retired sociology professor from St. Cloud State University, said later he was glad to see Somalis running for office.
“When I came here somebody told me that they called it ‘White Cloud,’ but there’s been a lot of change,” he said. “Even if [Kulane] doesn’t win, I think it’ll be a good experience for the city to get acquainted with a Somali and to see that his concerns are very much what a lot of other citizens’ are.”
Minneapolis — A big part of the fight against the terror group known as ISIS and ISIL is taking place on American soil in places where young people are leaving the country to go join their cause, even fight and die overseas.
Perhaps the biggest question of all is: Who is recruiting? It’s a question no one seems to be able to answer definitively in Minnesota, but a lot of fingers are pointing at Amir Meshal, a former al Qaeda suspect who lived on a quiet cul de sac in Eden Prairie, Minn., until recently. Yet, some believe he may actually be an FBI informant. Still others say he may be a kind of double agent.
No one is more suspicious of Meshal than Peter Erlinder, an attorney representing a would-be traveler to Syria.
“I am not prepared to confirm or deny the role my client had in this,” Erlinder told Fox 9 News.
Erlinder is a lawyer choosing his words very carefully, and his client is a high school-aged boy who was intercepted by the FBI at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in June. The teen was trying to board a flight to Istanbul, but his presumed destination was Syria.
“It’s not illegal to go to Syria; there’s no crime in traveling to Istanbul,” Erlinder stressed.
Yet, the young man identified Meshal as some type of recruiter with agents who suspected the boy may have intended to fight for al Nusra, al Qaeda or ISIS. The teen apparently met Meshal at Al Farooq Youth and Family Center in Bloomington, Minn. That’s where Meshal is believed to have socialized with many of the men and women who havetraveledd to Syria to fight for ISIS.
Erlinder describes Meshal as “a very influential person at the mosque in Bloomington.” He apparently gave haircuts and arranged social evenings at various homes; however, the mosque called police and got a no-trespass order against him in June. According to the police report, leaders at the mosque told officers, “We have concerns about Meshal interacting with our youth.”
“He appears to be connected to a lot of these individuals,” Erlinder said.
During the secret grand jury proceedings involving Erlinder’s client, prosecutors have shown photos of those who traveled to Iraq — and Fox 9 News learned that Meshal is at the center of that case. The FBI has known about him since 2007, when he was arrested in Kenya after leaving a terror training camp in Somalia. According to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, the FBI interrogated Meshal at secret prisons in both Ethiopia and Somalia before releasing him back to the U.S. without charges 3 months later. That lawsuit contends the FBI offered to remove Meshal from the TSA’s no-fly list if he would become an informant for the government.
Erlinder declined to say whether he believes Meshal is really an FBI informant, but he did tell prosecutors he believes Meshal should be their real target, not his client. He told Fox 9 News that the prosecutors reacted to that assertion with “stunned silence and wide eyes.” When asked how he interpreted their response, he carefully replied: “Having information they didn’t expect I would have.”
Prosecutors would not be able to tell Erlinder if Meshal was or was not an informant, but neighbors told Fox 9 News they saw him loading up a van with his belongings two weeks ago and they haven’t seen him since. That house is owned by someone Fox 9 News has not been able to locate. In fact, the only address listed for that person is a post office box. Meanwhile, the FBI has been unwilling to comment on Meshal.
MINNEAPOLIS – About seven years after Somali Minnesotans started to see dozens of young men volunteer for a war across the globe, the community is struggling with the latest effort to recruit their young adults.
And this time, it’s an effort being waged by a different terrorist organization from a different region.
According to the FBI, a “handful” of Somali men and women have volunteered to join the terrorist organization ISIS and their fighting efforts in Syria. Local leaders say the number of people is estimated to be at least 10.
“Even one person it impacts all the families and communities. It’s unacceptable,” said Hashi Shafi, Executive Director of the Somali Action Alliance.
Shafi believes recruitment videos distributed by the terrorist organization clearly reveal its attempt to specifically target Somali Minnesotans with direct references to Minnesota. He adds ISIS may be following in the footsteps of al-Shabab, another terrorist organization that successfully recruited two dozen Somali Minnesotans to fight in Somalia, starting in 2007.
“This time it’s another war and in a country where we don’t have no clue, no relationship whatsoever,” Shafi said.
Shafi said the community is eager for answers and supports the efforts of a federal grand jury investigation – first reported by the Star Tribune – that is looking into the recruitment efforts. Shafi and other leaders also hope to find answers of their own, by holding a town hall meeting later this month that would allow people to learn more about ISIS, while trying to learn more about why Somali Minnesotans are falling into the organization’s trap.
“We don’t know exactly what’s happening. That’s why we have to as a community stand up,” Shafi said.
Meantime, KARE 11 has learned the Bloomington Police Department issued a no-trespass order to a 31-year-old man after the director of the Al Farooq Youth and Family Center and Mosque in Bloomington reported concerning behavior by that man. According to an attorney for the mosque, the man had been acting inappropriately with young adults and was “advocating extremist views.” The attorney, Jordan Kushner, added that two people – a man and woman who had attended activities or prayers at the center – had disappeared around the same time the order was issued. Kushner would not speculate on what happened but said the widespread belief among those involved in the Al Farooq community was that both had boarded a plane for Syria to assist in the ISIS efforts.
Star Tribune — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., returned last week from an 11-day fact-finding trip to Africa, where she visited Senegal, Ethiopia and Tanzania to discuss food security and Somali refugees.
Klobuchar’s staff said the senator made the trip to review “the significant agriculture and aid investments we have in Africa and make sure they are effective and making progress so that countries are able to start building their own economies.”
While there, Klobuchar also met with officials from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees and Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugees to discuss the plight of Somali refugees in Ethiopia and how to strengthen the security situation inside Somalia, where the U.S. military has launched drone strikes.
Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii were also part of the all-female delegation, which was briefed on the Ebola outbreak in west Africa by high-level officials from Liberia, Nigeria, Guinea, and Senegal.
The group also visited the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and the Rome-based headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization during the taxpayer-funded trip.