Kenya mall attack angers Somali-Americans in Minneapolis

Community leaders in the city say Somali group that attacked mall does not share their Islamic values

Abdi Salam Adam, of the Islamic Civil Society of America, speaks at a news conference in Minneapolis on Monday.
Al Jazeera

The siege at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, finally appears to be ending, and a clearer picture of what happened is just beginning to emerge.

But the four-day conflict has already cast a shadow on a community half a world away -- in Minneapolis. Kenya's foreign minister told "PBS NewsHour" that several Americans were involved in the attack that killed over 60 civilians, including at least one from Minnesota.

While the U.S. government has yet to confirm the presence of American fighters, the issue has angered Minneapolis residents, who told Al Jazeera they have done their best to escape their war-torn country, only to live under a veil of constant suspicion.

Minneapolis is home to the U.S.'s largest Somali population, and al-Shabab, the Somali armed group that claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack, has found the city a ripe recruiting ground.

Since 2007, al-Shabab has convinced young, disaffected Somali nationals in the Minneapolis area to take up arms and fight overseas, according to the Justice Department. A 2011 House Homeland Security Committee report said that more than 40 Americans had been recruited by al-Shabab, including at least two dozen from Minneapolis.

On Monday, just after midday prayers at the Abubakar as-Saddique Islamic Center in Minneapolis, leaders representing about 20 organizations condemned the Nairobi mall attack and defended their community.

"The perpetrators of this barbaric act do not share our Islamic values," said Abdi Salam Adam of the Islamic Civil Society of America. "In fact, extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and its affiliate al-Shabab have done more harm to Islam and Muslims over the years." 

Abdirizak Bihi, director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center, is an outspoken anti-recruitment activist. He said his nephew was brainwashed and recruited to battle for al-Shabab in Somalia, where he was killed.

"We also have a huge, growing percentage of single-mom households, and we see a lot of young men are not growing (up) with a man in their life," Bihi told Al Jazeera. So, what are Al-Shabab recruits doing here? They fill that gap. They become the father that this kid has never had." 

As community leaders in Minneapolis attempt to stem recruiting by warning young people about the dangers of extremist ideologies, they are bracing for what the Nairobi attack could mean for their community.

"We are a very peaceful people. We are wonderful people," said Rahmo Omar, a Somali-American. "The scars and the wounds that we carry from Somalia have devastated us, and for us to be associated with terrible people like this, it affects me." 

Al Jazeera 

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