A coalition of Somali civil, religious, and political organizations responded to negative press received by the Minnesota Somali community before and after the indictment of Salah Osman Ahmed and Abdifatah Yusuf Isse on charges of supporting terrorism. Community organizations represented at the July 21 press conference at Casablanca Restaurant in Minneapolis included United Somali Movement, Somali Youth Network Council (SYNC), Somali Youth Action of Minnesota, Somali Action Alliance, United Somali Diaspora, Somali Leadership Council, Somali American Community, and World Peace Organization.
The speaker for the conference, Aman Obsiye, Vice President of United Somali Movement, said the coalition of Somali organizations, which he called “Somali Voices”, represented the 75,000 Somali residents living in MN. “We are encouraged that indictments have come forth in the case of the missing Somali men,” Obsiye said. “If laws have been broken, then justice needs to be served.”
Obsiye said the Somali Voices were encouraged by the recent New York Times investigative report, which he said was the first factual evidence about the activities about any of the missing Somali men. “The investigative report emphasized that these men left voluntarily on their own,” Obsiye said. “These men raised their own funds, and recruited each other.” He emphasized that “The investigative report clearly indicates that no religious institution or civic organization played any role in assisting the missing Somali men.”
He also stated that Somali Americans are just as concerned about national security as any other Americans, and that the Somali Voices didn’t want their community to be linked with “the actions of the few,” saying, “We are not represented by a few fringe individuals whose baseless allegations have been clearly refuted by the investigative facts.”
Obsiye didn’t name who these “fringe individuals” were. When asked if he was speaking of Omar Jamal, he said he wasn’t going to name names. Jamal, the executive director of the Minneapolis-based Somali Justice Advocacy Center, has been vocal in accusing religious leaders of indoctrinating the young men. (An MSNBC report set out many of Jamal’s specific allegations.)
Abdirizak Bihi, the uncle of one of the missing men who has recently been killed, has also blamed religious leaders in Minnesota for radicalizing the young men.
When questioned about the Somali Voices assertion that the young men weren’t recruited by religious organizations, Obsiye again said that the facts, as outlined by the NY Times investigative report “clearly indicates that no religious institution or civic organization played any role in assisting the missing Somali men.”
After the conference, Hashi Shafi, Executive Director of Somali Action Alliance, said in response to accusations that religious leaders knew about the recruitments of Salah Osman Ahmed and Abdifatah Yusuf Isse: “If you don’t know anything, you have to stop finger pointing, especially to our leaders.”
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org