Ilhan Omar, whose victory in a Minneapolis DFL primary last week means she likely will become the nation’s first Somali-American legislator, released a statement Wednesday that sought to clear up questions about her marital history.
Omar married Ahmed Nur Said Elmi in 2009 in Hennepin County, but she identifies a different man, Ahmed Hirsi, as her husband in campaign literature.
The discrepancy led to a raft of speculation on conservative news and websites — beginning with a popular site called Power Line — about whether she had married Elmi solely to help him with his immigration status and whether he may have been a relative, perhaps even her brother.
According to her statement, although Omar never was legally married to Hirsi, they had an Islamic marriage that ended in 2008 when they reached “an impasse in our life together.”
She then met and married Elmi, a British citizen, in 2009, according to the statement.
That relationship ended, and Elmi has moved back to England. Omar said she is in the process of legally divorcing him.
“Insinuations that Ahmed Nur Said Elmi is my brother are absurd and offensive,” she said.
Omar said that she reconciled with Hirsi in 2011 and that they are together today, raising their three children.
In her statement, Omar said she was putting out the details so she could move on: “I will offer clarity and share a difficult part of my personal history that I did not consider relevant in the context of a political campaign, so that we can put these rumors to rest and return to what really matters: How we join together to build a more prosperous and equitable district and state.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Omar’s Republican opponent for the House District 60B seat, Abdimalik Askar, criticized her initial response to what Askar called “a serious accusation” about her marriage history. In a statement, Askar said he and the district’s constituents “would simply like a clear nonpolitical answer about the allegations.”
Omar’s statement — a reversal from one on Tuesday that said she was done discussing her marital history — will come as a relief to some in Omar’s own DFL party who have grown increasingly uneasy in recent days as Omar allowed speculation to fester.
Although she denied earlier this week that Elmi was her brother or that she was married to two men at the same time, Omar had previously declined to provide any more details about her 2009 marriage to Elmi or say why she never divorced.
Still, she received a statement of support this week from House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis: “It’s clear to me that this is a private family matter and nothing more. The allegations of legal impropriety being made by conservative bloggers are clearly false.”
The controversy came just days after Omar won a spirited three-way primary that included longtime Rep. Phyllis Kahn, who is tied for the longest-serving tenure in state House history.
Omar’s grass-roots campaign was credited with driving up both Somali-American and white turnout well past expectations, and DFL activists hoped Omar’s victory would signal a new period of Somali-American political engagement and participation.