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After OSU attack, worried Somalis talk of love of America



COLUMBUS — Hassan Omar hurriedly removed the framed painting proclaiming in bold red letters, “I ♥ Somali” from the back wall of his small office.

He didn’t want it to serve as a backdrop in pictures the newspaper photographer was taking.

The image, like much in these days after the Ohio State University attack, might be misunderstood or taken out of context, said the Somali Community Association of Ohio president as he tucked the painting under his desk and out of sight.

But it was hardly out of mind.

“I am American,” said Omar, who has worked with the U.S. military and was granted political asylum in the U.S. from his homeland of Somalia. “What some believe about us is not who we are.

“We love this country. We don’t separate ourselves,” Omar said. “We are not Somali-Americans.

“We are Americans.”

“We are Ohioans.”

“We are Columbus.”

Omar, like many of his Somali friends, spent this past week painstakingly explaining their country, their Muslim faith and the economic and social impact they’ve had here in central Ohio to anyone who would listen. Simultaneously, he and others vehemently denounced the erratic actions of the 18-year-old who carried out car-and-knife attacks at OSU Monday morning that left him dead and 13 others injured.

Federal authorities said the attacker, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, might have been inspired by Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda recruiter and propagandist, or by the Islamic State terrorist group. The FBI continues to probe Artan’s whereabouts before the attacks, his associates and his online life. Shortly before the attacks, Artan posted a rant on Facebook calling al-Awlaki a “hero.” He also wrote that the U.S. could stop “lone wolf attacks” by making peace with ISIS.

But Mohamed Diini, an imam in Columbus, said he knows one thing: Artan was not acting as a Muslim or in the name of Islam.

“The Muslim faith, Islamic theology is quite clear about this: He who tries to take the life, or takes the life, of one human being, it would be, in the sight of God as if he had taken the life of all of humanity,” Diini said at a gathering of Somali men Tuesday evening who gathered to talk to the media. “What happened at OSU was un-Somali, un-American, un-Islamic, inhumane.”

And, he added, criminal.

“I know our neighbors know better than to judge us by the actions of one lone, deviant individual,” he said.

Facts and fear

However, a tweet by President-elect Donald Trump crystallized their worst fear — even if few said it aloud to strangers here last week.

“ISIS,” Trump tweeted early Wednesday, “is taking credit for the terrible stabbing attack at Ohio State University by a Somali refugee who should not have been in our country.”

As of Friday, however, there was no known proof that Artan was part of any terrorist group. ISIS often takes credit for lone wolf attacks.

Officials have confirmed Artan was a permanent legal resident of the United States, having fled war-ravaged Somalia in 2007 with his family to a refugee camp in Pakistan. He and at least six family members entered the U.S. in 2014, first moving to Dallas and then to Columbus. Many Somalis move to Columbus to be close to family and friends because the city has a much lower cost of living than Minneapolis and Seattle, where many Somalis have resettled.

Estimates vary widely on the number of Somalis who call Columbus home — from 15,000 to more than 40,000. Some, like Omar, put that number closer to 60,000 and say it could be higher. Accurate population figures are nearly impossible to gauge because of secondary migration. It is widely believed Columbus trails only Minneapolis in its number of Somalis.

A 2015 report, citing the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said 5,936 Somali refugees have resettled in Franklin County. But that does not take into account children born here or other family members who migrated later.

“Somalis prefer to cluster where they have mutual support,” said Kenneth Menkhaus, a political science professor at Davidson College in North Carolina and an expert on Somalia. “They are very intentional on where they settle.”

Many may be financially poor, he said, ”but they are rich in social capital in ways Americans are not. They call on each other.”

Which is why the actions Monday of a dedicated student, who bought chips at a corner market and gyros at a Pakistani-owned restaurant next door and often helped his white neighbor, don’t seem to square for those who knew Artan.

“He was always smiling. He never talked about being Muslim,” said Niaz Sddiqui, the owner of Khyber Restaurant. “He spoke my language — Urdu — and I asked him once: ‘What’s a Somali guy doing speaking my language?’ He said he studied in Pakistan.”

The young man, who always wore jeans and had a backpack on his shoulder, also worked at Home Depot, Sddiqui said. Others said he helped his mom out with his younger siblings and might have dropped them off at school before the attack Monday morning.

Those actions all align with Somali culture and Islamic teachings.

Many, if not all, Somalis remit “as much money” as they can back to their families who remain in the fractured country of Somalia, which is in the Horn of Africa. About $1 billion to $1.5 billion is remitted back to Somali annually, Menkhaus said.

“It floats their economy,” he said.

Hundreds of business owners

Nuro Wardhere, who manages Nuro Fashions in the Global Mall on Morse Road — a neighborhood akin to Little Somali — sends as much money back as she can to her mother, sister and other family members. But, she is quick to add that America, and more specifically Columbus, is home.

“We are American. We live our lives here. We hope to do well together,” she said, while proudly showing the brightly colored and bejeweled dresses and scarves that line the wall of her booth.

This is the Somali community Omar points to. Families who help raise families, business owners who pool their own capital to get the next Somali businessman off the ground, car and truck dealers who provide interest-free loans to each other.

This is the Columbus Somali community he knows. A community that built itself up. He beams at their accomplishments in less than three decades here.

That 2015 report, called Impact of Refugees in Central Ohio, did not break out Somali-owned businesses specifically, but it estimated there are at least 873 refugee-owned businesses in the Greater Columbus area employing about 3,960 workers. In dollar figures, the businesses generate a total economic impact of $605.7 million a year in the area, according to the report.

For context, Somalis make up more than half of the total refugee population in the area.

“Refugees in Franklin County are more than twice as likely to start a business as the county population in general,” said the report, which was a collaboration between US Together, Community Refugee & Immigration Services, World Relief Columbus and the City of Columbus.

The report did not analyze the fiscal impact the community has on infrastructure or public services. While the state keeps data on total refugees who receive state aid, it is not broken out by specific group, said Jon Keeling, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

These are the stories, Omar said, that don’t often get attention. While he won’t comment on Trump’s tweet — “He’s our president now” — Omar can’t seem to square how Trump, a business owner, can’t see the impact Somalis have on Ohio’s economy.

“If we went away,” he shakes his head while touring the north side of Columbus pointing out Somali-owed businesses for miles, “Columbus would feel it.”

Judged in the court of God

Omar won’t speculate on what may have motivated Artan or why, in such a close-knit and supportive culture, a young man who seemed to have so much would turn into a knife-wielding madman.

Wardhere, a mother of a teenage boy, said he must have suffered from a mental illness, because his actions were not based in Islam.

Menkhaus, too, said that the attack did not seem to fit neatly into any clear pattern. But he added “we have so few of these lone wolf attacks that there isn’t a profile. They don’t fit a profile.

“This is a great mystery for the Somali community there,” he added. “It’s a great mystery for law enforcement, at least right now.”

Diini, the Imam, said it is the Islamic burial ritual that Artan’s body would be washed before it is wrapped in cloth and that prayers would be said over his body at a local Islamic Center before he is put to rest.

But he will not be forgiven.

“He has done a crime. But, he is not an animal,” Diini said. “But his accounting, his judgment will be in the court of God.

“Justice will be served there,” he said.

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Chris Graves is metro columnist for and The Cincinnati Enquirer. Follow her on Twitter @chrisgraves.


ICE detainees describe beatings, other abuses



Guards at an immigrant detention center in West Texas were spoiling for fights with their charges, heaping verbal abuse and threats on them and delivering beatings and using pepper spray indiscriminately, two men held at the facility said.

The West Texas Detention Facility in Sierra Blanca, which is operated by Louisiana-based LaSalle Corrections under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was criticized this week in a report by immigration rights groups. They’re asking the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to look into allegations that immigrants from Africa were physically assaulted, called racial slurs and denied medical care.

Guled Muhumed, a Somalia immigrant who said he came to the U.S. in 1996 when he was 9 years old, said he’s been in nine detention centers since he was arrested by ICE six months ago. But nowhere did he encounter the harsh and violent treatment he faced in the Sierra Blanca center, Muhumed said in a phone interview from another facility in Robstown.

“On the first or second day, one of the Somali guys was thrown on the floor. Another guy, he was jumped by four or five officers because he talked back to them,” Muhumed said. “The day that we were leaving, a guy in front of me who was shackled was beaten too, because he told them the handcuffs were too tight.”

“These officers at West Texas were anxious to do something to us. Anytime one of us speaks out, says something in the hallway, they would get in the person’s face and tell them be quiet, shut up,” he added. “You go there with your own eyes, you can see the officers, these are young officers, they look like they’re on steroids, they’re buff, big guys.”

The report released by the San Antonio-based Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, the Texas A&M School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic and the University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic is based on interviews with 30 Somali immigrants and alleges that, during a brief stay at the West Texas Detention Facility in late February and early March, about 80 men from Africa were subjected to brutal conditions.

In a statement, ICE said it “takes very seriously any allegations of misconduct or unsafe conditions.”

“ICE maintains a strict zero tolerance policy for any kind of abusive behavior and requires all staff working with the agency to adhere to this policy,” the statement reads. “All allegations are independently reviewed by ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility. ICE has not been made aware of any allegations prior to this initial reporting from RAICES.”

LaSalle Corrections did not respond to requests for comment.

Muhumed also described what he said was an indiscriminate use of pepper spray. On one occasion, guards sprayed dozens of people in a sleeping area because two detainees were fighting. On another occasion, he said, an ICE officer instigated a tense situation by insulting and cursing at the detainees.

The ICE officer left and detention center staff again filled the sleeping area with pepper spray while the detainees were menaced by Hudspeth County sheriff’s deputies with shotguns, Muhumed said. On both occasions, the guards were behind a gate that protected them from the detainees.

The Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

During the second pepper spray incident, Muhumed said, he tried to drag a man who was vomiting and struggling to breathe up to the gate so he could receive medical attention.

“When we brought him to the gate one of the officers cocked his shotgun right at me and one of the other guys, and one of the shells from the shotgun fell on the floor,” he said. “I didn’t understand what was the point of him doing that. His life was not in danger. None of the other officers … was in danger. The door was closed. It was locked.”

Abdilahih Mohamed, 36, also from Somalia, said he witnessed the pepper spray incidents as well.

“They did a whole lot of threatening and pushing and shoving around, enticing people to get aggressive and fight, but we never did anything to them,” he said “So when the Macing had started, the officers were definitely not threatened. This was just one of the captains and leaders of the jail trying to show his manhood.”

Mohamed said he was menaced by a guard, who threatened to gouge him with a key. After about a week in detention, as the shackled detainees were loaded onto a bus for transportation to another facility, a group of LaSalle employees stalked between the seats trying to goad the men into talking back and threatened them with a pepper spray canister, Mohamed said.

“When we went inside the bus, there was four or five six officers came onto the bus, screaming at us, saying, ‘Say something,’” he said. “They lifted up the guy’s glasses and held it right up to his eye and said, ‘Say something.’”

Immigrant rights advocates involved in the report said the abuses reported by detainees were extreme for immigration detention centers.

“These are very severe abuses even compared to the types of things I’ve seen in other detention centers in terms of the level of physical assault that we saw,” Fatma Marouf, a law professor and director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at Texas A&M University, said during a Friday conference call with reporters. “Nearly half of the people we talked to have been assaulted by officers. And so that is quite extreme.”

The men are not being held because they’re charged with a crime, but because they are facing deportation, a civil court proceeding, said Jonathan Ryan, the executive director of San Antonio-based RAICES. Immigration detention centers are “not intended to be in any way a punitive environment,” Ryan said.

“It is expressly for the purpose of enforcing immigration laws, but what we’ve heard about here, what these individuals have suffered and seen is, it’s far beyond a punitive environment and into the territory of an outright criminal and persecutory one,” he said.

Convictions led to detention

Muhumed said about 30 Somalis were transferred in early March to the Coastal Bend Detention Center in South Texas. Initially the men were kept under tight security, apparently a result of reports from officials in Sierra Blanca, but after a few weeks without incident they’re under fewer restrictions, he said. They’re still only allowed one hour of exercise a day, Muhumed said.

He said his family fled Somalia’s civil war in the 1990s, eventually coming to the U.S. He was allowed to enter the country on a refugee visa, but never received a green card and was later convicted on drug charges and couldn’t become a citizen. Muhumed said he’s turned his life around and teaches at his mosque and helped found a program for teens in his Minnesota community to stay out of trouble.

He’s now married with a daughter who’s about to turn 2 years old and his wife is pregnant, Muhumed said. Last year, as he went to take his daughter to day care in the morning, he found ICE officers waiting outside his apartment. They took him into custody, and began shifting him around detention centers, apparently in preparation for deporting him to Somalia.

Mohamed said he came to the U.S. as a child as well. Many of his family members are now U.S. citizens, but Mohamed never naturalized and lost his green card after a drug possession conviction in 2009. He said he signed paperwork that he believed allowed him to stay in the U.S. as long as he regularly checked in with ICE, but almost a decade later is facing deportation.

He’s afraid of going back to Somalia, Mohamed said. Islamic militants target those who have lived in the U.S. and Europe and he’s heard stories about men with tattoos having an arm cut off. If he’s deported, Mohamed said, he’ll be leaving behind a wife and two children.

“I was working doing framing work, and they took my life away and brought me here, and now they’re taking me to a country where I don’t have a word, I don’t know a single person,” he said. “Everybody makes mistakes, but I feel like that little mistake’s been following me since I was 25 and caught that little drug charge.”

‘Beaten down’

Muhumed said that after his treatment in West Texas, spending months apart from his family and being shuffled from detention center to detention center, he’s ready to give up and accept deportation to Somalia.

“I’m doing this to let everyone know what’s going on with this treatment that’s going on here, everything that we went through. I don’t want anyone else to go through the same process, the same torture,” he said.

“Personally, I don’t want to stay anymore. I did, but not anymore after what I’ve been seeing lately. The country we grew up with, we loved, it’s not the same anymore. Especially with this new administration and this hate that’s going around. It’s not somewhere that we can feel comfortable or that we can feel safe as Somali or African, as a Muslim, as black.”

His U.S. citizen wife, Layla Jama, who was on the same conference call, said afterward that the separation from his family has been incredibly difficult for Muhumed.

“He’s talking out of frustration right now, but obviously the conditions in Somalia are a hundredfold worse than what is here,” Jama said. “A lot of what Guled’s saying right now, specifically it’s coming out of frustration. It’s been a long battle … but I don’t think he means it.”

ICE has found it difficult to deport immigrants to Somalia, where the militant group Al-Shabab is trying to overthrow the government, said Marouf, the A&M professor. She said that’s likely part of the reason the Somali men have been shuffled from detention center to detention center for months.

“I don’t think they really have a plan for how to remove all of them, so they’re indefinitely in detention,” Marouf said. “If deportation isn’t foreseeable, they’re supposed to release someone. And they keep scheduling flights and saying removal is foreseeable, but they keep canceling the flights.”

Several family members of the men in detention told reporters Friday that the men felt pressured to sign agreements to leave the U.S. Meanwhile, the wives and fiances of several said their husbands have been denied medical care and complaints about their treatment had been ignored.

Shantel Ismail, whose husband, Mohamed Ismail, was held in the West Texas facility, said she spoke to him on the phone one time and heard in the background the screams of a man who needed medical attention. Her husband hasn’t seen his infant daughter for months and has considered accepting deportation and trying to reunite with his family in another country, said Ismail, a nurse in Ohio.

“He’s just defeated at this point. His rights are being taken from him. He’s being mistreated. He’s been beaten and handcuffed,” she said. “They’ve beaten these men down so much they don’t have anything left.”

Jason Buch is a San Antonio Express-News staff writer. Read more of his stories here. | | @jlbuch

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Minnesota Somali Community Condemning Charges Against Mohamed Noor



WCCO — The Somali-American Police Officers Association calls the charges “baseless and politically motivated, if not racially motivated as well,” Esme Murphy reports (2:28). WCCO 4 News at 5 – March 22, 2018

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Racists Charged In Terror Plot Against Somali Refugees Get A Nearly All White Jury



WICHITA, Kansas ― An overwhelmingly white jury will decide the fate of three white militiamen facing federal charges for allegedly plotting a terrorist attack that targeted a community of Somali Muslim refugees.

Patrick Stein, Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright (left to right) are accused of plotting to kill Somali Muslim refugees living in Kansas.
SEDGWICK COUNTY SHERIFF Patrick Stein, Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright (left to right) are accused of plotting to kill Somali Muslim refugees living in Kansas.

Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen were arrested and charged in connection with a FBI domestic terrorism sting that wrapped up a few weeks ahead of the 2016 presidential election. They’ll be on trial in a quiet federal courthouse in downtown Wichita over the next six weeks.

The federal government says they intended to slaughter Muslim refugees living in an apartment complex in Garden City, Kansas, whom they considered “cockroaches” and a threat to the United States. The trio allegedly planned their attack for the day after the election because they didn’t want to hurt President Donald Trump’s chances of victory.

There were only a handful of African-Americans in the jury pool called to the federal courthouse. Just one black individual, the daughter of refugees from Eritrea, made the final panel of 40 potential jurors. But she was ultimately struck from the jury ― almost certainly by the defense attorneys, who had questioned the woman about whether she could be fair to a group of defendants who thought refugees needed to be exterminated and referred to President Barack Obama as the “nigger in the White House.”

Gebilet, whom HuffPost agreed to identify by her first name only, said in an interview afterward that she considered it a blessing that she had been summoned in the first place.

“The immigrant community here is so small, to even have been selected is an honor,” she said.

She suggested that the defense attorneys probably decided just from her name and her appearance that they didn’t want her as a juror. And she wasn’t surprised by the ultimate makeup of the jury.

“Generally, minorities are not picked,” Gebilet said. “It’s a real shame that that happened,” she said, but she still has faith in the jury process in this case.

The lack of black representation on the jury is especially stark because it adds to the probable dearth of black voices in the courtroom. The judge has ruled that none of the potential victims of the plot will be allowed to testify during the trial, since they only knew about the planned attack because the government told them about it. The apartment complex the trio allegedly targeted is more than 200 miles away, so it’s unlikely many members of that community will be present in the courtroom either.

The final jury, including four alternates, is made up of eight men and eight women. It includes one woman who described herself as half-native American. That group was narrowed down from an initial 600 people who received jury questionnaires. The attorneys on both sides ultimately qualified just over 100 potential jurors after probing them extensively about their views on a wide range of issues over the course of two days.

African-American jurors faced questions about their ability to give three racists a fair trial, especially given the fact that the defendants had repeatedly used the n-word.

“It’s a part of life, it always has been,” one woman, a customer services manager, said of the slur. “It’s something that you have to move past.”

“I’m almost 60 years old, I’ve been hearing that all my life,” said another woman.

Yet another woman said she wouldn’t be able to get past the language and she was dismissed from the panel.

A number of potential jurors were excused for other reasons, including a former deputy sheriff dismissed because his ex-girlfriend used to date one of the defendants, Patrick Stein. Also, a man who said that the allegations made his “blood boil” and that the defendants were “guilty until proven innocent.” A woman who, upon hearing the term “weapon of mass destruction,” thought of her uncle who was killed in the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. A woman who used to live in the apartment complex targeted and got to know the families there.

One man described himself on his jury questionnaire as a “Western chauvinist” and complained about refugees moving into neighborhoods. He said he’d seen a lot of the world and was convinced that America was the best and he didn’t want to live anywhere else.

“I am 100 percent for America all the time,” he told the attorneys. “I’m very unapologetic about it.” He later said he wasn’t offended by those who called another human being a cockroach or a whole group of people an infestation. It was just a way of describing a group of people who have “overrun” an area, he said.

He also objected to labeling Trump’s travel ban as a “Muslim ban.”

“It’s not a Muslim ban, that’s just what they put out there,” he said, but he insisted religion wasn’t really the focus of Trump’s effort. He didn’t make the final jury.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Mattivi, a Kansas-based prosecutor with a high-and-tight haircut and an affinity for American flag socks, is leading the prosecution of the case alongside two attorneys from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division based out of the nation’s capital. Mattivi made sure the potential jurors knew he wasn’t an out-of-towner. “My office is in Topeka, and I live in Topeka with my family,” he told one group.

Mattivi also told the jurors that it was his job to make sure the trial was fair. He asked whether there was anyone who believed the government had no role in protecting civil rights. He asked if anyone had been bullied before. He asked them about their views on immigration and whether they thought the government should take religion into account when deciding who was admitted to the U.S. He asked what American values meant to them.

Many of the potential jurors with the most interesting views didn’t make the cut. The final jury does include a woman who had great concerns about immigration policy, a strong Second Amendment supporter with a Muslim friend, a man with a son-in-law who just immigrated to the United States, another Second Amendment supporter who advocated for gun rights on Facebook but said he’s not a fanatic, and a man who wrote his congressman recently hoping to do something about AR-15s.

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