Somali actor Barkhad Abdi's criminal past snarls travels

  • Article by: MARK BRUNSWICK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 25, 2014 - 9:00 AM

Barkhad Abdi found fame as actor in “Captain Phillips,” but past criminal offenses have drawn scrutiny from immigration officials.

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Barkhad Abdi at the special screening of "Captain Phillips" in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Photo: Todd Williamson/Invision/AP, Photo by Todd Williamson/Invision/AP

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Minnesota actor Barkhad Abdi, who gained fame as a Somali pirate in the 2013 film “Captain Phillips,” was stopped briefly by U.S. customs officials in February while returning to the U.S. after accepting an award for his performance overseas.

Abdi, 28, is a permanent legal resident in the U.S. and several previous criminal offenses flagged him when he returned to the U.S., according to a local federal source with knowledge of the case.

He faces a possible hearing this week with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which stopped him after he returned from accepting the British equivalent of the Oscar as a best supporting actor in the film. He was also nominated for an Oscar.

One of the offenses was a drug arrest in August 2012 in Iowa for possession of marijuana and khat. He has also been arrested on suspicion of credit card fraud in North Dakota and Minnesota. While the arrests might be considered minor, any sort of drug offense could result in immigration action against him, the source said. But it is unlikely Abdi, who came to the U.S. at 14 from Somalia by way of Yemen, would be deported because federal immigration authorities have shown little appetite for making a move for any but the most serious offenses, the source said.

Abdi, who is said to be splitting time between Los Angeles and Minneapolis, could not be reached for comment. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection regional office in Detroit did not return requests for comment.

Abdi, who answered an open call for his role as the lead Somali pirate in “Captain Phillips,” has never denied his past. In February, he told the Daily Beast: “Our mistakes shape us. You make a mistake and it makes you a better person. You learn from it. I wasn’t a complete man.”

It is unclear whether the current situation with federal authorities will have an impact on some of his activities in Minnesota and in his acting career in Hollywood. Abdi is slated to throw out the first pitch for the Minnesota Twins home opener and is a pitchman for MNsure, the state’s health insurance marketplace.

 

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434

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