The question of terrorism has shadowed the home of Fadumo Hussein since 2007, leaving only answers of heartbreak and confusion.
On Sunday morning, that question once again stormed into her life, when FBI agents crashed through the door of her south Minneapolis house in search of her youngest son, Guled Omar.
Rousting her from sleep, the agents had surrounded the house about 9 a.m. and then stormed in to arrest her 20-year-old son. The young man, who works as a security guard for Target and attends community college part-time, is now charged with leading a secret life centered on plotting with five friends to leave the United States in order to fight with terrorists in Syria and Iraq.
“Guled was born by myself under a tree,” Hussein said, recounting the period her family spent in a Kenyan refugee camp and protesting his innocence.
Of the six men arrested Sunday by FBI agents — four in Minneapolis and two in San Diego — Omar was a particularly important target because of his past; federal authorities allege that since 2012 Omar had made at least three prior attempts to leave the country to fight with terrorists, first in Somalia and then with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Still reeling from the weekend’s trauma, a tearful Hussein sat on her couch Monday morning and tried to come to grips with now losing her second son to the nationwide investigation of terrorist recruitment among Somali-Americans.
Omar is the youngest brother of indicted fugitive Ahmed Ali Omar, who left the U.S. in late 2007 as part of the first wave of Somali-Americans in the Twin Cities to fight for Al-Shabab in Somalia.
Hussein said she hasn’t heard from Ahmed since — that he’s simply disappeared off the family’s radar. Now, she faces the prospect of losing Guled too, through a terrorism trial or a guilty plea that, either way, could put him in prison for decades.
Hussein, a naturalized U.S. citizen, now finds herself watching her family circle disintegrate — facing eviction by a fed-up landlord and wondering what fate awaits a son who repeatedly swore to her that he had no involvement with extremist groups.
She is tired and cries quietly when she speaks of her journey from Somalia to Minnesota, especially when she describes living in a Kenyan refugee camp before getting to the U.S.
“We came here for peace and to leave war. I love America so much. I work, I pay my taxes — and now I watch as two of my boys are locked up,” said the 48-year old matriarch. Her family includes 13 children, a group she has tried to nurture since her husband left her 12 years ago.
Asked if she believed Guled Omar was plotting to flee the U.S., without hesitation, she said she couldn’t fathom the possibility.
“I told him to never even mention those names, ‘Al-Shabab’ or ‘ISIL,’ because the Qur’an says nothing about the reasons to kill anyone in the ways ISIL talks about,” said Hussein. “Every day, I told him, ‘Don’t be involved, pray five times a day, go to school, work and come home.’
“He told me, ‘Mom, I promise, I’m not involved.’ ”
A third son, Mohamed Ali Omar, was convicted in March of threatening FBI agents and an interpreter when they came to the family’s house last November in an attempt to interview Guled Omar and family members about his attempts to travel.
“Now I am so confused, I want to find peace, I don’t know who to go to in the community to ask for helping our family. I don’t know where to take all these kids because the landlord has told us we have to leave at the end of the month for all this happening,” she said.
During a news conference Monday morning, the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, Andy Luger, emphasized the significance of arresting Guled Omar. He said Omar was remarkable because he allegedly “never stopped plotting,” and was determined to find a way to leave the U.S. “by any means possible.”
In August 2012, Omar attempted to travel to Nairobi, Kenya, but was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, according to court records. He told authorities he was traveling to attend an uncle’s wedding; later, when interviewed by the FBI, he said he was going to Kenya for a marriage arranged by his two uncles. Yet when he arrived at the airport that day, he had no checked baggage, holding only a gym bag filled with T-shirts, muscle shirts and extra shoes, according to authorities.
Last May, Omar and two others made plans to drive from Minneapolis to San Diego, where they would each make their separate way to Syria, according to a criminal complaint. One of those friends eventually turned and became an informant for the FBI. Omar had withdrawn $5,000 in cash from his federal education aid debit card in the weeks leading up to the trip, records show. He’d also stopped showing up for work. Later that month, while Omar placed his luggage in a rental car, members of his family allegedly confronted him and the men scrapped their plans, the complaint states.
Then last November, Omar attempted to fly from Minneapolis to San Diego but was stopped by FBI agents. Again, he had no luggage and was carrying his passport.
Omar’s sisters — both nursing students — are outspoken, arguing that Guled Omar will eventually be exonerated and their mother will be spared more anguish. They said they decided to speak out because they believe their mother’s generation is paralyzed with fear, ingrained from decades of trauma due to war and living in refugee camps.
“Somali people are so afraid to talk now for themselves. They want to stay in the shade and hide, it’s so sad,” said daughter, Shukri Omar.
Her mother, however, has decided to come out of those shadows. She looked about her home, still in disarray from the FBI raid.
“I don’t know who to talk to in my community,” she said. “I don’t know where to take my family anymore. I am asking for help from my people, no matter what.”