MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota imams and Somali community leaders gathered Monday to condemn the deadly terrorist attack on a Kenyan shopping mall as a heinous act that has no place in Islam.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has the largest Somali community in the United States, and it’s been a recruiting ground for al-Shabab, the armed Islamic group linked with al-Qaida that has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. At least 22 young men have left Minnesota to join al-Shabab since 2007. Some have died, some remain at large and others were among those prosecuted in what the FBI has called one of the largest efforts to recruit Americans to a foreign terrorist organization.
The Somali religious and community leaders spoke to reporters at the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, the mosque where several of the young men were recruited. The leaders said they had no idea whether any Americans were involved in the attack.
“The perpetrators of this barbaric act do not share our Islamic values,” Abdisalam Adam of the Islamic Civil Society of America said as he read a statement on behalf of several groups. “In fact, extremist groups such as al-Qaida and its affiliate al-Shabab have done more to harm Islam and Muslims over the years.”
They also pledged to be in the forefront of defeating extremism.
“We call on Muslim youth to shun and reject to be lured into or recruited by extremist groups like al-Shabab,” Adam said. “We call on all imams and leaders in the community to actively engage young people and have continuous dialogue about the dangers of extremist ideologies and shed light on the correct Islamic teachings and perspectives on this issue.”
They refused to say whether they think any Somali-Americans took part in the siege that started Saturday and has left at least dozens dead. U.S. authorities have not confirmed any American involvement.
“We don’t know anything. The information we have is limited,” said Abdiaziz Sugulle, a board member of the mosque.
The recruitment of Somalis in Minnesota began in 2007. They were told they would be helping to expel troops from neighboring Ethiopia who had been brought into Somalia by its weak UN-backed government but were seen by many Somalis as invaders.
Ralph Boelter oversaw the initial investigation of al-Shabab recruiting in Minnesota for several years as the head of the FBI’s Minneapolis office.
Boelter said he had no knowledge of whether al-Shabab was actually involved in the Kenya attack. But he said authorities have been concerned that al-Shabab would strike targets outside of Somalia, as well as the possibility that American citizens who went to Somalia would use their U.S. passports to either come back or go elsewhere to carry out an attack.
“This is not out of the realm of things we were concerned about,” Boelter said of the mall attack.
The siege hit home particularly hard for one Somali-American from Minnesota who had relatives injured in the attack.
Hodan Hassan, of Minnetonka, said her nieces — Fardosa Abdi, 17, and Dheman Abdi, 16 — were shopping when the siege started. Hassan said Fardosa was in critical condition Monday after undergoing two surgeries for severe leg injuries, while Dheman had a bullet break her leg and an explosion injured her arm.
She said the teens are Canadian citizens who moved three years ago to Nairobi, where their father has a real estate business. The girls visited Hassan this summer.
“It’s tragic. It’s really like a nightmare. … I’m sad and frustrated and angry. I’m angry at the ones that decided to attack innocent people there,” Hassan said.
“It’s people who don’t care, with no hearts,” she said of the terrorists.
AP reporter Amy Forliti contributed to this story from New York.