Memphis police are investigating a late-night weekend incident in which a Somali man talking about violence in his country had a gun placed to his head outside a local mosque. Facebook Live broadcast it all.
The man with the gun was reportedly also Somali. In the video, the gunman appears to treat it as a joke. The victim appears to take it more seriously, but wraps up the broadcast.
The leadership of the Memphis mosque said it has no affiliation with the Somali man and the group of young men he was with and that the incident happened after hours when the mosque was closed.
They also questioned the Somali man’s credibility, calling him an “Internet famed pseudo-scholar.”
The victim wasn’t hurt and no arrests have been made. The incident comes as Somalia is dealing with attacks by Islamic extremists.
Police said it happened about 3:20 a.m. Sunday at the Islamic Association of Greater Memphis / Masjid Al-Noor at 3529 Mynders Ave. near the University of Memphis.
Reached by phone Monday, the main speaker in the video, Abdurahman Haji, 52, said he’s the imam of a mosque in Columbus, Ohio and travels around the country trying to promote peace.
“Really, really it was shocking,” he said. Photos and video of the incident in Memphis were posted to his Facebook page and he said they have triggered a big response.
“And to be honest with you, all the elders of the Somali community, all the members of the Somali community around the world, in Asia, Australia, they are contacting me, they are calling me.”
He said Somali young people are coming under the influence of extremists on social media. “They listen to a lot of negative information they are receiving from many gangs around the world.”
Haji was quoted in a 2011 article by The Columbus Dispatch about Somalis in Ohio and concerns they might be recruited by extremist groups. “My goal and your goal is to go to heaven,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “Allah is inviting you to the house of peace. Don’t hate.”
Facebook Live is a technology that allows people to post live video to the Internet.
The lengthy video, still available on Haji’s Facebook page, shows Haji hanging out at night at a long banquet table under a tent, speaking with a small group of men in a foreign language. The men then go into the parking lot and Haji appears to hold the camera facing himself to finish his Facebook Live broadcast.
Behind him, a young man in the group waves a pistol theatrically, then apparently hands it to another young man, who pushes it against Haji’s head. At first Haji brushes off the pistol barrel as though it were an insect, then turns around and sees the gun.
Haji appears shaken, while the gunman seems to treat the whole thing like a joke. Haji chastises him, at one point switching languages and saying in English, “You go to jail! You’re risking yourself.”
The other men laugh, and Haji finishes the Facebook Live broadcast, even managing to smile and laugh at one point.
Haji said he was back on the road Monday but planned to stay in contact with Memphis police as their investigation continues.
In response to inquiries, the Islamic Association of Greater Memphis wrote in an email late Monday night that Haji had approached the mosque about speaking there, but didn’t submit required information and didn’t receive permission to speak at the mosque or hold any sort of event.
“The events that transpired occurred at the parking lot of our mosque after hours (after midnight) when the mosque was closed. We were unaware of the situation until this evening,” the mosque leadership wrote in an email.
“From what we know, the man in the video is a Internet famed pseudo-scholar. Additionally due to his Internet fame this was a prank. We are ashamed that he would abuse our place of worship for his quest for fame and by the gun incident that happened by a member of the group that was with him.”
“Gun violence is a serious issue in our country and brandishing a weapon even in jest is a serious matter. For any inquiries we defer to Memphis police department.”
The mosque released its statement so late at night that there was no time to contact Haji again to respond.
Located in east Africa, Somalia has a fragile central government that’s facing ongoing terrorist attacks from Al-Shabab, an Islamic extremist group. Last week extremists attached a popular restaurant in the capital, Mogadishu, and killed 31 people, the Associated Press reported. The U.S. recently conducted an airstrike against Al-Shabab.
Somalia began to fall apart in 1991, when warlords ousted dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other.
Years of conflict and attacks by al-Shabab, along with famine, shattered the country of some 12 million people. It has been trying to rebuild since establishing its first functioning transitional government in 2012 and electing a new president Feb. 8.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.