Word of 2nd death jolts Twin Cities Somalis
Star Tribune — He was a slight and sickly teen, nearsighted and, reportedly, confined to a room away from the fighting that raged throughout the city. But the reported death last week of Burhan Hassan, the second Minneapolis man of Somali descent believed to have died in Somalia, has jolted his family and the Twin Cities Somali community.
Hassan, who should have graduated from Minneapolis Roosevelt High School last weekend, was reportedly killed in Mogadishu, Somalia’s largely lawless capital. He is one of up to 20 local men and boys of Somali descent to have disappeared over the past two years. Their disappearance led to a nationwide federal investigation into whether they had been recruited for jihad in their families’ homeland. Shirwa Ahmed, another Minneapolis man, was killed in October in an apparent suicide bombing in northern Somalia.
Hassan abruptly left Minneapolis in November. Since then, the family had been working behind the scenes to get Hassan out of Somalia, according to his uncle and Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center.
They were working with “contacts” in the country, wracked by civil war since the mid-1990s, to provide Hassan with safe passage, first to the U.S. Consulate in Nairobi, Kenya and then, eventually, home to Minneapolis.
“We were very hopeful that he would make it here,” said Abdirizak Bihi, Hassan’s uncle.
Bihi said the family hoped that Hassan, who left for Somalia in hopes of joining an Islamic utopia but had become disenchanted with what he saw there, might begin his exodus this week.
But, on Friday morning, Hassan’s mother received a telephone call, Jamal said.
On the other end of the line, another missing young man from Minneapolis told Hassan’s mother that her son was dead — shot in the head.
“The mother fainted. She collapsed. She couldn’t take the news,” Jamal said.
How did he die?
Since the news of Hassan’s death, Bihi and Jamal say different stories have emerged about how he was killed. The first had Hassan slain by an errant artillery shell that fell on the house in which he was staying. The second version had Hassan killed by a stray bullet, after he and other young men stepped outside the house to investigate the sounds of a battle in another part of the city.
In the most recent version, Hassan was shot execution-style while inside the house. The teen had been sick, family and others say, perhaps with malaria or ravaged by a chronic urinary tract infection or gastrointestinal ailment.
Bihi, the brother of Hassan’s mother, insisted that the boy was not involved in fighting. In fact, he said, Hassan had never received any military training.
Jamal said he questions the timing of Hassan’s death — coming so close to his pending return — and whether the men who allegedly recruited him to Somalia may have played a role in his death.
“What we can’t understand is the level of coincidence,” Jamal said. “Someone must have benefited from his death. Why would they have him killed right before he was supposed to go?”
Family members and others in the community Monday expressed frustration with the slow pace of the FBI’s investigation into the missing men and vowed to continue pressing for answers.
“Our cause is not ended,” said Bihi. “Burhan is dead. We are going to continue. The death will energize us.”
Jamal added: “I hope the death of Burhan Hassan would lend a sense of urgency to the investigation.”
E.K. Wilson, a special agent with the Minneapolis FBI office, said he could not confirm Hassan’s death.
“We are not commenting any further, due to the ongoing investigation,” he said. “We are aware of the information — the reports that the family got that he was killed. But we can’t really say more than that.”
Investigators have been looking into whether the missing men were recruited by Al-Shabaab, a terrorist group with alleged ties to Al-Qaida. Al-Shabaab has been at the forefront of a battle for control of Somalia — first to expel Ethiopian troops from the country and, now, to topple a transitional government.
While federal officials have not said how or where the men were recruited in Minneapolis, all of the missing men were known to attend services at the Abubakar as-Saddique Islamic Center, the city’s largest Somali mosque.
Family members of the missing have in the past raised questions about whether the men were indoctrinated at the mosque — an idea rejected by mosque leaders. But Bihi on Monday said he has no question that someone at the mosque bears responsibility for convincing his nephew and the others to leave.
“We see the perpetrators of the crime everywhere, on the street and in the mosque,” he said. “We are going to face them and hold them accountable.”
He called a Sunday prayer service held at the mosque in Hassan’s honor a “publicity stunt.”
Farhan (Omar) Hurre, executive director of Abubakar, said Bihi’s claims have no merit. “We don’t want to get into a war of words with this irresponsible person,” he said on Monday. “We had a service yesterday. The purpose for that was to pray for the family and the deceased person.”
Hurre said more than 300 people attended the service.
In the days since receiving the news of her son’s death, Hassan’s mother has had hundreds of guests — many of them Somali mothers — passing through her Cedar-Riverside apartment, Bihi said.
“They were crying more than my sister,” he said. “Because they all saw their own kids in there.”
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