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Back to the land: Friction as Somali exiles return home

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MOGADISHU (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In Somalia’s Raqayle village, life under al Shabaab Islamists can be brutal, with public beheadings, and bizarre – with edicts about wearing socks – but locals feel safer than when the government controlled the area and violently ousted them.

More than 70 villagers fled to nearby Afgoye town in 2014 when a dozen government soldiers and policemen forced them off a 128-acre farm, which was claimed by an exile returning from Britain.

“They were just terrorizing us,” said one villager, Hodan, describing how the man from the diaspora sped in with cars full of armed men who smashed in doors with their rifles, looted water pumps and filled a well with sand and debris.

“My sister, who was five months pregnant, was so upset she miscarried,” another villager, Warsame, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, which is about an hour’s drive southeast of Raqayle.

Both women declined to give their real names.

Similar stories can be heard across south-central Somalia, where better security is encouraging wealthy exiles who fled in the 1990s to return home – often igniting fresh land conflicts.
Since 2011, United Nations-backed government forces and African Union troops have pushed the militant group al Shabaab out of major towns and cities.

“The federal government is encouraging diaspora to come back,” Somalia’s information minister Abdirahman Omar Osman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation via email.

“The country needs their skills, knowledge, and expertise.”

Osman said conflict can arise when returnees start rebuilding on land which others have lived on for decades.

“There are special committees dealing with all disputes, and if there are serious cases then courts settle them,” he said.

RIGHTS BY BLOOD

Resolving tens of thousands of land disputes, some of which date back to the 1970s, is a complex task as the process is unclear, said Kenneth Menkhaus, a political science professor at Davidson College in the United States.

“It’s a mess,” he said, adding that side with the most firepower, money or influential clan connections usually wins.

“Armed settlers claims on land are illegitimate – they are just a form of land grabbing.”

Clans form the bedrock of Somali society and identity, and decisions about most aspects of life are made collectively within them.

“One’s claim to land is anchored pretty strongly to one’s clan,” Menkhaus said by phone. “This is rights by blood.”

In Raqayle, the returning exile belongs to a more powerful clan than the villagers, said Ubdi Omar Wallin, founder of the charity Women in Action Against Malnutrition (WAAMO), which took the land dispute to court.

“(He) didn’t come to the villagers and say: ‘This is my land’,” said Wallin, who has lived in the United States since she was 17, when her family fled that part of Somalia.

“He just did all the paperwork by himself and came up with soldiers to destroy,” she said, referring to the title deeds acquired by the new owner.

WAAMO had been supporting a group of poor widows, including Hodan and Warsame, who were given a three-acre portion of the 128-acre farm by its owner, who lived in the village.

The charity provided the women with irrigation and a daycare center in 2013, so that they could grow okra, cucumbers and peppers, selling the excess at a local market.

But the land lay idle after the government militia took over, carrying out regular patrols. They allowed the villagers to return home, but they did not feel secure enough to farm.

The court case stalled as the respondent did not attend.

The villagers of Raqayle only picked up their seeds and tools again after al Shabaab recaptured the area in 2015.

Few Somalis have faith in the judicial system, which is plagued by graft, or in the government, where both the president and the prime minister are diaspora returnees.

Menkhaus said the government should set up a land tribunal or a hybrid commission that included traditional authorities and land experts who are regarded as clean.

“That is where al Shabaab has far and away the greatest advantage on this land issue,” he said, as the militants are seen as less corrupt.

The Islamists often bring wrangling parties together to agree on a solution, asking elders to give testimony about the history of disputed plots, the women of Raqayle said.

The villagers now live under Sharia law, which includes decapitation of government collaborators and a fine of bullets and guns for chewing the narcotic shrub khat.

Women were even ordered to wear socks for modesty while washing in the river, until one slipped and got hurt and the edict was revoked, they said.

But, generally, life is peaceful.

“Now, there is no harassment by soldiers,” said Shemsa, one of the widow farmers.

“We don’t go to (al Shabaab), and they don’t come to us.”

Reporting by Amanda Sperber. Editing by Katy Migiro.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

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Diaspora

Group of Walmart employees allege discrimination at Fargo store

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FARGO — Several local Walmart employees are speaking out about alleged discrimination they say they’ve suffered at their jobs, including an unfair reduction in hours and prejudicial harassment by a manager.

However, a company spokesperson said an internal investigation didn’t find any evidence of discrimination at a Fargo store, 4731 13th Ave. S.

Several employees spoke during the Fargo Human Relations Commission meeting Thursday, Feb. 15, and Chairwoman Rachel Hoffman said a total of about a dozen employees who were born in Somalia or Kenya attended the meeting.

One woman, translated by Commissioner Abdiwali Sharif-Abdinasir, said she was accused by a manager of not doing her job, when in reality she was speaking Somali to a customer who requested her help finding things she wanted around the store.

Halima Abubakar, also translated by Sharif-Abdinasir, said she’s had her hours reduced. When she’s tried to talk about it with the store manager, her concerns were brushed off or ignored. She said she’s struggled with bills and supporting her family as a result.
Walmart spokeswoman Tara Aston told The Forum that the company takes these claims “very seriously,” which is why it has already investigated the complaints about the manager at the Fargo store.

“We’ve done a thorough investigation, and we cannot find any sort of evidence that corroborates these claims,” she said Friday, Feb. 16.

The Human Relations Commission didn’t take formal action at Thursday’s meeting, and the human rights group doesn’t have enforcement authority in these matters, Hoffman said.

Instead, she said commissioners agreed to help connect employees with agencies that could take formal discrimination complaints and possibly investigate the matter, such as North Dakota’s Department of Labor and Human Rights or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Sharif-Abdinasir said he plans to meet Monday, Feb. 19, with several employees to help them write down their complaints and figure out next steps.

Hoffman said the large turnout at Thursday’s meeting suggests the situation needs to be examined.

“I would just say that the amount of women who came forward with these allegations, it should definitely be reported and investigated,” she said. “If that many are speaking out now with the fear of retaliation, you don’t know how widespread it could be until it’s looked into.”

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Minnesota

Minnesota terror case shows challenge of predicting attacks

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After Tnuza Jamal Hassan was stopped from flying to Afghanistan last September, she allegedly told FBI agents that she wanted to join al-Qaida and marry a fighter, and that she might even wear a suicide belt.

She also said she was angry at U.S. military actions overseas and admitted that she tried to encourage others to “join the jihad in fighting,” but she said she had no intention of carrying out an attack on U.S. soil, according to prosecutors. Despite her alleged admissions, she was allowed to go free.

Four months later, the 19-year-old was arrested for allegedly setting small fires on her former college campus in St. Paul in what prosecutors say was a self-proclaimed act of jihad. No one was hurt by the Jan. 17 fires at St. Catherine University, but her case raises questions about why she wasn’t arrested after speaking to the agents months earlier and shows the difficulty the authorities face in identifying real threats.

“She confessed to wanting to join al-Qaida and took action to do it by traveling overseas. Unless there are other circumstances that I’m not aware of, I would have expected that she would’ve been arrested,” said Jeffrey Ringel, a former FBI agent and Joint Terrorism Task Force supervisor who now works for a private security firm, the Soufan Group, and isn’t involved in Hassan’s case. “I think she would’ve met the elements of a crime.”

Authorities aren’t talking about the case and it’s not clear how closely Hassan was monitored before the fires, if at all. When asked if law enforcement should have intervened earlier, FBI spokesman Jeff Van Nest and U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Tasha Zerna both said they couldn’t discuss the case.

Counterterrorism experts, though, say it seems she wasn’t watched closely after the FBI interview, as she disappeared for days before the fires. But the public record in a case doesn’t always reveal what agents and prosecutors were doing behind the scenes.
Authorities are often second-guessed when someone on their radar carries out a violent act. Some cases, including Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people, reveal missed signs of trouble. The FBI has admitted it made a mistake by failing to investigate a warning last month that the suspect, Nikolas Cruz, could be plotting an attack.

U.S. officials were also warned about Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev two years before his 2013 attack, though a review found it was impossible to know if anything could’ve been done differently to prevent it. And the FBI extensively investigated Omar Mateen, the gunman in the June 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. As part of an internal audit, then-FBI Director James Comey reviewed the case and determined it was handled well.

Hassan, who was born in the U.S., has pleaded not guilty to federal counts of attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida, lying to the FBI and arson. She also faces a state arson charge. One fire was set in a dormitory that has a day care where 33 children were present.

Although her attempts to set fires largely failed, Hassan told investigators she had expected the buildings to burn down and “she hoped people would get killed,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter said in court. He added that she was “self-radicalized” and became more stringent in her beliefs and focused on jihad.

Hassan’s attorney, Robert Sicoli, declined to talk about whether the family saw warnings. Her mother and sister declined to speak to The Associated Press.

According to prosecutors, Hassan tried to travel to Afghanistan on Sept. 19, making it as far as Dubai, United Arab Emirates, before she was stopped because she lacked a visa.

Prosecutors say that when the agents interviewed Hassan on Sept. 22, she admitted she tried to join al-Qaida, saying she thought she’d probably get married, but not fight. When pressed, she allegedly told investigators she guessed she would carry out a suicide bombing if she had to do it but she wouldn’t do anything in the U.S. because she didn’t know whom to target.

Hassan admitted that she wrote a letter to her roommates in March encouraging the women to “join the jihad in fighting,” prosecutors allege. The letter was initially reported to campus security, and it’s unclear when it was given to the FBI or if the agency made contact with Hassan before the September interview.

It’s also unknown how closely U.S. authorities were monitoring Hassan between the interview and Dec. 29, when she was barred from traveling to Ethiopia with her mother. Prosecutors say at the time, Hassan had her sister’s identification and her luggage contained a coat and boots, which she wouldn’t have needed in Ethiopia’s warm climate.

Hassan later ran away from home and her family reported her missing Jan. 10. Her whereabouts were unknown until the Jan. 17 fires.

Ron Hosko, a retired assistant director of the FBI’s criminal division who has no link to Hassan’s case, said that based on an AP reporter’s description of it, “I would certainly look at this person, not knowing more, as somebody who would be of interest to the FBI.” However he cautioned that the public doesn’t know the extent of the agency’s efforts to monitor Hassan, including whether she was under surveillance, what sort of background investigation was done and how agents might have assessed her capacity to follow through on a threat. He also said the FBI might have made decisions based on her mental capacity.

“Not every subject requires 24/7 FBI surveillance,” he said. The reality is that hard decisions on resources are being made constantly, with the biggest perceived threats receiving the most attention.

“I’m sure there are plenty of days where they hope they are right and they are keeping their fingers crossed,” he added.

Stephen Vladeck, professor of law at the University of Texas, said monitoring possible threats is a delicate balance, and law enforcement can’t trample civil rights while trying to prevent violence.

“This is a circle that can’t be squared,” he said. “We are never going to keep tabs on every single person who might one day pose a threat.”

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LONDON: Crowd pickets Wormwood Scrubs demanding justice following death of inmate

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GET WEST LONDON — More than two weeks on from the fatal stabbing of a young man in his Wormwood Scrubs prison cell a large crowd gathered outside the Shepherd’s Bush institution to protest.

Khader Ahmed Sahel, 25, was of Somali origin and his sudden death on January 31 has shocked and angered a tight knit community who believe it could have been prevented.

On Thursday (February 15) Khader’s mother, Amima Duleah, and his older brother, Said Yusuf, both from Northolt, Ealing, were among those to picket the prison’s gates in Du Cane Road, demanding justice.

Following his death Khader’s 20-year-old wife Salma has been left to bring up their two-year-old son, Ahmed, alone.

Speaking to getwestlondon Mr Yusuf, 29, described the last time he visited his brother in prison, he said: “His state was a bit bad, you could see the violence from his body – he’d been in fights inside

“He was mentioning that there was no safety inside and that there was neglect from the guards.

“He was scared inside the prison – for his life.”

He added: “We want justice for him and we would like for this prison to either be closed or to be fixed so this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

The protest was organised by Somali campaigning group Gaashaan, which has set up a petition asking the Ministry of Justice to combat the issue of violence in prisons and reassess the safety of inmates in institutions across the country.

Speaking to getwestlondon, Gaashaan leader Sahel Ali said: “We are coming together to protest against the brutal stabbing of an inmate of Somali ethnic background, Khader Sahel.

“Khader was 25 years old, he was at the beginning of his life, he left behind a family and a child.”
Salma Hassan, has been widowed aged 20 after her husband was fatally stabbed in Wormwood Scrubs prison on January 31 (Image: Salma Hassan)

He added: “There is nothing wrong with locking up people who commit crimes or break the law of the land but what we are unhappy, angry about and against is that people’s safety inside jails has been compromised.

“And this happened a month after a report was published highlighting a surge in prison violence – that is what people are angry about today.”

A prison inspection in December revealed a high surge in violence on top of chronic staff shortages and lack of food at Wormwood Scrubs.

Following the report Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said it painted “an extremely concerning picture.”

Wormwood Scrubs inmates Ahmed Khayre, 21, Enton Marku, 20, and Khalif Dibbassey, 21, all appeared at the Old Bailey charged with Mr Saleh’s murder on Tuesday (February 6).

The Recorder of London, Nicholas Hilliard QC, remanded all three defendants in custody.

Dutch national Mr Khayre, of HMP Belmarsh, British national Mr Marku, of HMP Wandsworth, and French national Mr Dibbassey, of HMP High Down, will return to court for a plea and trial preparation hearing on April 24.

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