After an immigration roundup in Virginia this spring, federal officials announced that they had captured a former lieutenant in a Somali national-security agency notorious for human-rights abuses.
But retired federal agents tell a different story about the thin, bespectacled father who has been sitting in an immigration jail since late March. They say he is a confidential FBI informant who risked his own safety to save American lives and should have received a Green Card. Instead, he faces deportation to a country where his history of spying for the United States could get him killed.
The man, whose name is being withheld by The Washington Post out of concern for his safety, prevented a “major terrorist attack” on a U.S. embassy in Africa, uncovered support networks for some of the 9/11 hijackers and probed the killings of U.S. servicemen in Somalia, according to confidential affidavits from retired federal agents shared with The Post.
“He’s getting a raw deal,” said Richard J. Lauria, a former immigration special agent assigned to the country’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. “He went above and beyond, and he shouldn’t be in the position that he is now.”
The man’s case illustrates the powerful leverage that the U.S. government wields over foreign informants and witnesses and the trade-offs for both sides. The government has long offered special visas to immigrants who provide critical information about terrorism or criminal organizations, even if those immigrants are here illegally or have criminal records themselves.
The visas lead to a Green Card or U.S. citizenship. But critics say the United States often does not keep its side of the bargain, leaving people such as the Somali man in legal limbo as long as they cooperate — and at risk of deportation when they stop.
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The man became an informant to avoid deportation after being arrested for criminal immigration fraud in 1998. He continued that work off and on for nearly two decades, even as he accumulated minor criminal charges. He is now middle-aged with U.S.-born children. He said he told his latest FBI handlers early this year that he would not work for them anymore. Shortly afterward, he was arrested.
U.S. officials say immigrants are not entitled to an S visa — known derisively as the “snitch” visa — in exchange for their work. And they say informants who commit new crimes may disqualify themselves from the program.
“There are strict statutory requirements,” Department of Justice spokesman Peter Carr said last week. “Neither a law enforcement agency nor a federal prosecutor has the authority to guarantee an alien that they will receive an S visa.”
Because immigration files are kept secret, the full record of the Somali man’s case was not available for The Post to review. The FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to give details about his work for the government or why he was arrested after 20 years in the United States. ICE spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell said the man has convictions for felony immigration fraud and multiple misdemeanors, adding that she could not provide additional information because the man refused to sign a waiver.
Congress created the S visa program in 1994, a year after the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. The government sets aside 200 visas a year for informants and witnesses who provide information about criminal organizations and 50 a year for immigrants who assist terrorism investigations.
A law enforcement agency must sponsor immigrants for S visas, with the approval of the Department of Justice, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Since 1995, nearly 900 immigrants, and 750 of their relatives, have received S visas for exposing criminal enterprises, according to federal statistics and the Congressional Research Service .
But only six visas have been given to terror informants or witnesses since the program began. Five visas were issued in 1995 and one was given out last fiscal year, in addition to six visas for relatives of those individuals.
In Georgia, attorney Tracie Klinke said she has had at least two cases in which clients were promised visas for aiding criminal investigations, including drug trafficking, but never received them. A former client from India who busted an immigration-fraud ring ended up terrified that he would be deported to the same country as the people he helped put in jail.
Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida, said the FBI routinely recruits Muslim immigrants as informants but rarely follows through with promises to help their immigration cases.
“Immigrants, especially those who are not U.S. citizens, are prime targets because they [U.S. officials] have more leverage,” he said.
[Immigration officials tried to deport family that risked their lives for America]
The Somali man’s path from immigration violator to government informant living in Northern Virginia began on a wintry day in 1995, when he landed at Boston’s Logan International Airport using a fake Swedish passport he bought for $500, court records show.
He applied for asylum, lost and was expelled from the United States. He returned to the United States, married and applied for asylum again, using his real name. Immigration agents checked his fingerprints, discovered the old case and arrested him for felony immigration fraud in 1998.
Lauria, the now-retired federal agent, said he recruited the man to investigate Somali war criminals who were being smuggled from Kenyan refugee camps to the United States and Canada. Court records say the man faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, not to mention deportation, but after he pleaded guilty, a judge sentenced him to one year’s probation.
For the next two decades, on and off, the man helped the FBI and other agencies investigate extremists and terror plots.
He wore hidden microphones to coffee shops, shopping malls, taxi stands and clubs, Lauria said. He told no one, not even his wife, what he was doing. She feared he was having an affair because he would stay out all night.
Tim Clemente, a retired FBI special agent, said in an affidavit that the man exposed terror groups’ financial networks in the United States and elsewhere. The investigations led to arrests and saved lives, the affidavit said, particularly in the case of the planned attack on an unnamed U.S. embassy in Africa.
Clemente wrote that it is “very likely that many, many people would have been killed” if the man had not helped.
Lauria said that before he transferred to another federal agency in 2001, he submitted a thick packet recommending the man for an S visa. But Lauria and others moved on, and now Lauria says he fears that the visa request fell through the cracks.
In 2012, Lauria and Clemente wrote the affidavits urging an immigration judge to grant the man legal residency.
“In my eyes,” Clemente wrote, the man “truly is an American hero.”
In an interview, Lauria said the man’s “days would be numbered” if he were deported.
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The man says he told the FBI two weeks before his arrest that he would no longer be an informant. On March 26, ICE arrested him and said he had been a “second lieutenant in command of the Somali National Security Service, an organization known for human rights abuses, rape, torture and extrajudicial killings.”
The man denies that he was ever in the Somali National Security Service.
His U.S. criminal record includes the 1998 immigration fraud felony and, according to ICE, multiple misdemeanors. Court records show misdemeanor convictions in 2015 for prescription-drug possession and at least two pending charges: an arrest last year for obtaining money under false pretenses and a January charge for shoplifting.
Justice Department officials said there are many reasons informants and witnesses might not receive an S visa, including failure to maintain a clean record.
But Lauria and others said the man should have been a U.S. citizen by now, which would protect him from deportation.
US Targets Islamic State in North Eastern Somalia
WASHINGTON / PENTAGON / LONDON — A U.S. airstrike has targeted Islamic State in northern Somalia, defense officials told VOA Friday.
The strike resulted in at least one casualty, a U.S. defense official said, without elaborating on the target of the attack.
The chairman of the town of Qandala, Jama Mohamed Qurshe, told VOA Somali that several missiles hit a base for IS militants at Buqa village, 60 kilometers south of his town in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.
“According to the information we are getting from the ground, six missiles hit the militants’ base in the mountainous area. Local residents and pastorialists were shocked and fled from the area,” Qurshe said.
He said that prior to the strike, residents reporting hearing airplane sounds.
Details of the strike are still not clear due to the remoteness of the area, which locals said was only accessible to the militants; however, local officials and residents suspect the airstrike targeted the group’s senior leaders and perhaps even its top leader.
The pro-Islamic State faction in northeastern Somalia is led by Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, a former al-Shabab cleric who pledged his allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2015. In 2016, the U.S. State Department designated Mumin as a global terrorist.
Since the emergence of the IS faction in October 2015, the militants have claimed responsibility for at least four deadly attacks in Puntland.
In late October of last year, the militants briefly seized Qandala, before they were driven out by Puntland’s government.
No cutoff in funding
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has denied reports that it is planning to cut funding for the Somali government.
Somali media reports said the U.S. might reduce funding because unnamed Somali officials helped facilitate the October 14 truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed more than 350 people.
There were also reports that linked the alleged cut to an internal State Department finding that the department’s Africa Bureau is failing to ensure that U.S. funding is not diverted to al-Shabab militants.
In an email, a State Department official told VOA the reports were “incorrect.”
“Reports of funding being suspended to the Somali army due to alleged facilitation of the bombings by Somali officials are incorrect,” the official wrote. “The United States continues to provide extensive support to Somali security forces in their efforts to combat al-Shabab.”
On Wednesday, the Daily Nation, a leading newspaper in Kenya, quoted a report from the State Department’s Office of Inspector General. The report said the Africa Bureau had not established policy and procedures for identifying and mitigating terrorist financing risks for its programs in countries where militant organizations like al-Shabab and Boko Haram operate.
In his email, the State Department official said, “The United States prioritizes transparency and accountability in its partnership with Somalia, echoing one of the top priorities articulated by President Farmaajo upon his taking office earlier this year.”
“We have communicated conditions for U.S. security assistance to the federal government of Somalia, which includes enhanced measures to ensure proper oversight of our support,” he added.
Meanwhile, Somali leaders and the governors of Somali states are meeting for the fourth straight day in Mogadishu, in an effort to agree on implementation of a joint security plan.
The government is said to be preparing for a major offensive against al-Shabab.
Egypt’s Sisi stresses unity, sovereignty of Somalia
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi stressed on Wednesday his country’s firm stance towards the unity and sovereignty of the Somalia.
Sisi’s remarks came during a phone call with his Somali counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, state-run MENA News Agency reported.
During the phone conversation, the two leaders discussed means of enhancing joint ties besides promoting bilateral cooperation in the field of fighting terrorism and extremism.
They also reviewed the latest developments in Somalia and the efforts of the Somali government to restore security and stability so as to fulfill the aspirations of the Somali people in achieving development.
For his part, Farmajo lauded the Egyptian stance backing his country and the support it offers in attaining stability.
He further voiced his keenness on continuing the high-level coordination and consultations with Egypt pertaining to various issues of common interest topped by combating terrorism and bolstering joint cooperation in various domains.
Egypt and Somalia have been facing rising waves of terror acts carried out by Islamist groups that left hundreds of civilians, army personnel and policemen dead.
Opinion: Reasons Why Somalia’s president Farmaajo is becoming Africa’s Most Popular Beloved President
Ever since his historic election in February as a President of Somalia Mohamed A Farmajo has been a subject of public fascination. At first, his war on graft promised to cleanse the state of corruption, while his patriotic thrift inspired millions of Somali people.
Despite terrorism attacks recently the deadly on October 14,2017 president vows to eradicate Alshabab terrorists out of Somalia declaring full preparations for large-scale offensive against Al-Shabab..
Months ago he turns down $80m to cut ties with Qatar
He has been offered $80 million in exchange for his agreement to sever diplomatic relations with the tiny Middle Eastern nation of Qatar.
President Farmaajo improved rapidly Somalias relations to the rest of the world we all know all sovereign states in today’s world are interdependent regardless of how small or big are. What guides each sovereign state in relation to others or even international organisations is the foreign policy, whose one of the main contents is about diplomacy.
President Farmaajo has prioritize building strong relations nations like Turkey. Much credit to Turkeys had played a key role and take a lion share on supporting Somali people. Weeks ago Turkey opens military base in Mogadishu to train Somali soldiers. Turkeys’s biggest overseas military base. As Experts and political analysts say Diplomacy is to a nation what brain is to a person. President Farmaajo”.quickly,appointed,
Still despite major terrorist attacks government has made long strides in creating a peaceful Somalia, making to be named Somalia’s prime minster among ’most influential politicians in Somali’s history. Government efforts at advancing national reconciliation, anti-corruption measures, and socio-economic and security sector reforms in Somalia were cited as the reasons for the government progress a truth that is globally acknowledged, and which earned massive confidence Somali people and the mainly government donors and friends international community .
However, Somali government has also faced numerous external setbacks that prevented holding the entire
Somalia in control, especially from Al Shabaab, which had conducted terrorism attacks both in Somalia and in Kenya. Now government is putting up measures aimed at curbing the insecurity challenges. The neighboring governments, of Djibouti,Kenya and Ethiopia on the other hand, are trying now to assist Somali Federal government in eliminating Al Shabaab once and for all, and this is worth mentioning.
Somali Federal government has also faced internal setbacks- conflicts among with the Somali regional leaders on the issue regarding , the recent federal government neutral position on the Arab Gulf crisis which most corrupt regional leaders try to undermine federal government leadership neutral positions.
While majority of Somali are happy with the current political situation in Somalia. Recently, President of Somalia recently joined with the UN Secretary General Antonio Gutress and other world leaders in Kampala, Uganda at the major refugees in the region donor Confrence were historic Somali President generously donated 100,000 US dollars. And have also ordered foreign affairs and internal ministry to review numerous occasions previous government signed past agreements on the voluntary repatriation of the half a million Somali refugees in Dadaab camps. The assumption was that Somalia was eventually standing on its feet.
Knowing unilaterally Kenya government ordered for the closure of Dadaab camps after adjournment of the tripartite agreement, which had met an outcry from the international community. Still, the Somali refugees are receiving an orgy of threats from the Kenyan government.
Federal Government of Somalia set up plans and committees to collaborate the UN refugees agency UNHCR and regional governments especially Jubaland were most refugees returning. Assuring Federal government to ensure the safety of the refugees upon their return back to Somalia, although that seems impossible if the current insecurity and terrorism attacks continue.
To keep Somali people dreams alive and real the only way out for the president to meet the expectations of the Somali people. while being very careful in making decisions was who will he appoint a prime minister although mistakes are the order of the day in politics, repeating the same mistakes will have surely cost the government to lose trust among the people. President Of Somalia knew that the nation needs a strong prime minister who knows how to solve the Somali problems since he was previously being tested the waters of politics. He had chosen as a prime minster Hassan Khayre a qualified; patriot, intellectual, bureaucrat, who feels the pain of the people. Although it’ was difficult to know such a person. President Farmaajo seek suggestions from the Somali intellectuals, religious groups and even fellow politicians. A knew path avoid culture of future infighting between prime minster and president which had hindered in the past administrations as well on clan basis, competitiveness the core of the prolonged Somali conflicts.
Considering the fact that the Somali youth are entitled to take part in making political decisions, and his campaign pledges
May he Rest In Peace Abbas Siraji was among the cabinet young minister ever in the history of Somalia on May 3, 2017 gun men with government uniforms gunned and killed minster Abass down town Mogdishu. Speaking at the UN general assembly Somalia prime minister uses Abass Siraji as a role model and good example for the Somali youth.
Upon getting vote of confidence from
Somali parliament prime minister Hassan Kheyree government has made remarkable progress. strong support from the Somali people. Although the killing of Abass immediately met with anger and solidarity protests from the general public and from many lawmakers. Now Somali government now gain trust among the Somali people. And the government approval getting up day by day.
Vast administration experience.
c) Government strictness and familiarity with the protocols of classical democracies.
d) His diplomatic demeanor.
e) completed its first monthly payment of stipends to government soldiers, and it has also initiated the implementation of a biometric register for the security forces within a window of four months. This was a great achievement that had proved Somali Federal government seriousness and its capability to make Somalia stable.
f) On dispatching a high level federal delegations defuse clan-based tensions in several regions. This way has returned back the cordiality among different Somali clans, paving way for peaceful relations.
g) To improve transparency in the government, cabinet ministers fully disclosed transparency and signed a code of ethics.
h) An Anti-Corruption Commission with the power to carry out formal investigations and to review government decisions and protocols was also established so as to monitor public officials more closely
i) Unnecessary trips to abroad have been fully prohibited and all travels required the Premier’s consent.
j) On the war front, his tenure managed to secure control of 90% of Mugadishu, the capital of Somalia.
With his Excellency, President Farmaajo administration creates unique protocols that will definitely make sure Federal government to fulfill the promises it had made to the Somali people. We hope that President farmaajo and the Somali prime minister, to keep this momentum and address refugees issues more closely Dadaab will be a dead story and for Somalia will regain peace and stability, and the refugees will then return back to their country.
Suud Olat is Minnesota Based freelance journalist and refugees advocate founder of Refugees Forum and Advocacy.
Follow him on Twitter @SuudM or email him SuudOlat@gmail.com