Sadik Warfa, the spokesman and translator for families of young Somali-American men tried on terrorism charges, is leaving the U.S. to run for political office in Somalia.
"It is a personal choice," Warfa said Friday. "I was going to leave before the trial ended, but I decided to stay for the mothers."
Warfa, 40, is a Twin Cities community activist who is best recognized as the tall figure standing next to family members on the plaza outside the federal courthouse in Minneapolis. He was their informal representative during the trial of three young men who were convicted June 3 of trying to leave the U.S. to fight in Syria with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The announcement of Warfa's departure came as a blow to the mothers of Mohamed Farah, Abdirahman Daud and Guled Omar. While they support his decision, there is also sadness and unease.
"He gave us emotional and physical support," said Ayan Farah, mother of Mohamed Farah. "He was always there to speak on behalf of us even when others discouraged him."
Karen Schraufnagel, leader of Minnesotans Against Islamophobia and an avid supporter of the mothers, said she was shocked to hear Warfa's decision to leave the country.
"He is bilingual," said Schraufnagel, who visited Farah and Farhiyo Mohamed, mother of Abdirahman Daud, at their side-by-side restaurants in the Karmel Mall in south Minneapolis on Friday. "He played an important role between the media, the lawyers and the families."
Warfa has long been active in politics, running twice unsuccessfully for the Minnesota House of Representatives.
"I am going to go and help my motherland," Warfa said. "My skills and expertise are needed more in Somalia. My heart is in Somalia and my mind is here."
Seeking a replacement
Warfa said his decision was deeply personal. But he also remains concerned about the potential life sentences faced by Farah, Daud and Omar — and who will occupy Warfa's role once he leaves.
"I will make sure we have someone," Warfa said. "I will not leave until I put a team in place to help the mothers."
Glenn Bruder, the lawyer who represented Omar in the three-week federal trial, said Warfa's departure would be a loss for the families.
"I had only positive experiences with him," Bruder said. "I know he was a valuable resource for many of the defendants' family members, and I'm sure they will suffer if he returns to Somalia."
Mohamed doubts that Warfa will find a replacement who will console and empower her during the "difficult time I am going through."
"Sadik always comes to find me when I am worried," she said. "He might not change much, but at least he is there to support me."
Staff writer Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.