Since more than a dozen Somali men went missing, many in the community have been reluctant, even fearful, of speaking publicly about their relatives, friends or acquaintances who are gone.
One University of Minnesota student said in a previous interview — speaking only anonymously — that even her own family distrusted her after she was questioned by the FBI.
Others have stopped attending the mosque, Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center , which has been at the center of a growing national investigation into the missing men that has reached the level of the FBI and U.S. Senate. Authorities say the men went back to Somalia to fight in jihad.
Most of the families whose children vanished don’t want to talk to the media and answer questions about their disappeared ones, but one spoke with The Minnesota Daily Tuesday afternoon.
Other parents seemed scared, unwilling to trust anybody. Many family members of the missing men even got angry when approached for interviews.
Indeed, many families contacted by The Daily refused not only to mention the effects on them after their children went missing, but some even denied their children’s disappearances.
There are multiple reasons why the families hide from the media. Some don’t want to talk about their relatives because they don’t want to keep feeling like they are going through it all over again.
But even others are afraid of the situation and don’t want other people to notice they are related to suspected persons.
A relative speaks out
A relative of Mustafa Ali , an 18-year-old senior at St. Paul’s Harding High School who is among the missing Somali men, spoke with The Daily Tuesday.
The relative requested anonymity because he doesn’t want his name in the media talking about this issue.
The relative, who blamed the media for their curiosity, said it is wrong for journalists to search for answers from parents who themselves are seeking the same answers about the missing men.
The relative showed courage just speaking about Ali. He spoke in a mix of Somali and English about his character with a caring voice, speaking of a missing, “polite” boy who was nice to everyone.
Ali was an above-average student in school. When at home, he played games with his siblings, the relative said.
The missing teenager was a quiet man who didn’t talk even to those sitting around him unless they asked questions — and he simply gave them answers when they did.
Ali was a strong-minded young man, but also was down to earth and nice for his parents since he was more religious than his siblings, the relative said. He spent most of his time in school, home and mosques.
As the relative spoke in a sad voice, he came to life when he mentioned that Ali is alive and in Somalia.
He often calls home, but gives very limited information. Ali says that all is fine and that he is in Somali, the relative added.
“We don’t know if he is helping or harming,” the relative said of the situation in Somalia.
Still, Ali’s mother is deeply depressed, the relative said, saying she can never be comfortable when her son is missing.
“It’s hard to forget about a person,” the relative said, “he is not dead.”
But the person whose Ali’s disappearance affected most is his younger brother, who was also his roommate. The brother’s eyes are glued on Ali’s empty bed while in their room, the relative said.
The Islamic movements in Somalia
The Islamic movement in Somalia has its roots in the 1960s and 1970s when many people who had studied in Arab countries came back.
At first, the movement lacked strong influence in the country.
There was sporadic violence in the early decades of the movement, Abdirisaq Haji Hussein , who served as prime minister in Somalia from 1964 to 1967, said in an interview from his Minneapolis home.
One source of the early clashes came when the government in Somalia, namely former President Mohamed Siad Barre , said men and women were equal. Muslim militants fought back against the government.
Consequently, more than five men were prosecuted, killed by the government, Hussein said.
That only served to radicalize the movement, as Somali citizens saw it as the government coming out against Islam, Hussein said.
In protest, “all” of the young people went to the mosques, Hussein said, where they learned more and more about Islam.
Then Barre’s government was ousted in the early 1990s, leading Somalia to remain in a state of anarchy and chaos. A civil war broke out.
Anyone who could escape from the boiling pot of the crisis did, including the educated and the wealthy. The majority who were left behind are those who could not flee elsewhere because of financial issues.
The increasingly violent and chaotic situation claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and forced many others to flee. There have been warlords benefiting from the disaster. They never supported peace talks — when one was possible, they always found ways to tarnish it.
Shortly after the civil war an Islamic movement broke away in the northeastern region of Somalia, seeking to grab power in Somalia after the government fell. More than 500 people were killed in that movement and it failed.
From that point on, warlords largely controlled the country, Hussein said.
During that time, the Muslims locked themselves in the mosques, religious schools and organizations that offer social services.
They never participated in the Somali policies until 2006 when a new Islamic movement began in Somalia.
Many in Somalia supported the United Islamic Courts , which managed to provide six months of calm that Somalia tasted for the first time in years. The court was a coalition of Somalis in the country banded together.
They disarmed the populace and no gunshots rang out at night.
They banded together to expel Ethiopian troops from the country after Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed , a former president of the expired transitional government, asked them to help prop up the government.
Still, some leaders of the movement were the same warlords who looted and killed the innocent in the name of clan-based conflicts — they tricked many with long beards and a new style of clothing.
Shortly after the Ethiopian troops were expelled, the Islamic movement would be divided. Some were more radical than others but they all want the Islamic sharia law, Hussein said.
Since the division began, the movements have been fighting amongst themselves and against the transitional government, which received help staying in power from Ethiopian troops.
The most extreme of the movement, called Al-Shabaab , have had the most recent success is attempting to take power in Somalia. It is this movement that law enforcement officials say the missing men went to fight for.
Currently, the former head of the Islamic United Courts, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed , is the president of the transitional government. He prefers a more moderate interpretation of Islamic sharia law.
Al-Shabab, on the other hand, has been actively seeking to reinstate more conservative Islamic law and to overthrow Sharif’s rule.