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Continued: New alarm among Somalis in Minnesota

A few hours before delivering a speech Saturday about the dangers of ignorance, Sharif Mohamed of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Minneapolis received disturbing news.

"Did you hear?" a friend asked the Muslim prayer leader by phone.

Mohamed, of Minneapolis, quickly learned of the foiled car bomb attack planned for a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony Friday in Portland, Ore., and of the 19-year-old Somali-American accused in the plot.

In the Twin Cities, home to the nation's largest Somali community, where concerns about radicalized youths already were high, the news from Oregon has heightened calls for a swift community response.

Minnesota Somali leaders had already been working to protect young men in their community from the lure of radicalism and gangs.

"It's a very dangerous situation," Mohamed said of the threat posed by religious extremism. "The next step is [figuring out] how can the Somali community address this issue?"

Added Abdisalam Adam, secretary of the Islamic League of Somali Scholars in America: "There seems to be a feeling of, with the youth, something is missing."

Concerns raised by the attempted terrorist attack in Portland, which allegedly was planned by teenager Mohamed Osman Mohamud, have only increased with reports of an arson attack a couple of days later against an Oregon mosque where he reportedly once worshiped.

A town hall meeting to discuss the Oregon incident, organized by BBC Somali, is planned for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Safari Restaurant, 3010 4th Av. S., Minneapolis. That same evening, from 5:30 to 8 p.m., Dar al-Hijrah, at 504 Cedar Av. S., will host an open house and discussion on peaceful co-existence.

Cases not connected

Minnesota has recently been at the center of one of the largest counterterrorism probes since the 9/11 attacks.

The focus stems from the recruitment of at least 20 young men, nearly all of Somali descent, by the terrorist group Al-Shabab.

E.K. Wilson, special agent for the FBI in Minneapolis, said again Monday that the Portland case is not connected to what has happened in Minnesota.

"As far as any ties to our investigation, no, there are no ties," he said.

Reports that Mohamud, whose parents live in Portland, may have a stepmother in Minnesota couldn't be confirmed by the FBI, Wilson said.

"Chances are, for a Somali outside of Somalia, there is a good chance he's going to have a relative here somewhere," Wilson said.

"So I guess we just kind of assume that. But does that mean there is a tie to the case in Minneapolis? No."

Plans for an open house at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque were already in the works before the Portland incident, Sharif Mohamed said.

A new urgency

But the terrorist plot has injected a sense of urgency into their plans.

"It reinforces why people need to get along," Adam said. "The message to the youth is that this is their home. It makes it more relevant."

The speech that Sharif Mohamed was delivering about ignorance was part of a series of lectures delivered to a couple of hundred people in the local Somali community over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Mohamed is president of a new group called the Islamic League of Somali Scholars in America.

Formed about eight months ago to combat extremism, it includes members from nine different Somali organizations nationwide.

"A lot of people, when they do this type of activity, it's because they are ignorant about the religion," he said.

"What you hear on YouTube is not the right Islam. We plan to do more, too."

ashah@startribune.com • 612-673-4488 richm@startribune.com • 612-673-4425

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