Police seek killers of three in south Minneapolis

Two victims, cousins from Somalia, owned the store. The third, from Ethiopia, was a customer. Police say they have "a suspected motive.''

With the "cold-blooded" killers of three East African immigrants still on the loose Thursday, Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan appealed to the public -- and the city's Somali community -- for help in solving a crime that has shaken a city and the relatively quiet Seward neighborhood.

"The individuals that committed this act are very, very dangerous," Dolan said. "They're cold-blooded killers. There is a danger, and the danger obviously is higher in the Somali community. That is why we really need their help as far as trying to figure out who these individuals are."

In making his statements, Dolan backed away from earlier police assertions that the shooting appeared to be a failed robbery attempt.

A source said Thursday that the store's nine security cameras clearly showed the three killings.

Dolan would not elaborate on any other motive in the incident, which occurred around 7:45 p.m. Wednesday after two men burst into Seward Market and Halal Meats, on E. Franklin and 25th Avenues. Authorities wouldn't say how much time passed before the victims were shot; a number of customers were spared.

Two of the three victims were Somali, and the third -- a store customer -- was a native of the Oromia region of Ethiopia. Police said they believed the suspects are Somali.

On Thursday evening, more than 300 people gathered for a vigil, about two-thirds of them outside the store and the others in a church across the street. Many held signs that said, "Seward stands together; no more violence."

Authorities had yet to release the names of the victims. However, several Somali sources who knew the store owners, as well as relatives of the owners, identified two victims as Abdifatah Warfa, 28, the store owner, and his cousin, Mahad Warfa, a Savage resident who was about the same age.

One relative said that Mahad, the father of four children, was not working Wednesday night but went to the store to bring a cup of tea to his cousin, Abdifatah, who was also known as Osman Elmi.

The third victim, identified by his mother as Anwar Mohammed, 31, had just finished his shift as a parking attendant in downtown Minneapolis Wednesday night and walked into the store to pick up groceries and a calling card to phone his new wife in Ethiopia.

Mohammed's mother, Badria Rashad, said her son was preparing to bring his new wife to Minnesota this spring.

At a morning news conference, originally scheduled to tout the city's marked drop in crime in 2009, Dolan sidestepped the issue of whether the suspects knew the victims.

Regarding a motive, he said, "I'm not at this point ruling [a robbery attempt] out, but I'm not saying that we are comfortable saying that at all. We have a suspected motive that we're not going to get into the details on, but we're not sure."

Dolan said that although there were two suspects in the store when the shootings occurred, "we don't know that's the total number of suspects. There could be drivers, there could be people outside."

Dolan said witnesses in the store were cooperating.

Since 2005, police have been called to the store 12 times. Five calls were for robberies, including a 2007 case reported by Abdifatah Warfa.

The busy Seward neighborhood, just south of Interstate 94 and near the hub of the city's booming Somali population, also has been relatively safe. Police records show 56 robberies in 2009 and no homicides.

Omar Jamal, a community activist, said he met Thursday morning with some Warfa family members, adding that they were "devastated" and did not wish to speak publicly about what happened.

As family members mourned, friends, store customers and those with ties to the Seward neighborhood braved the snow and bitter wind Thursday morning to take in the shooting scene.

Dan Trautmann, who lives in Richfield but worships at a Seward church, stopped to lay flowers and a note at the store's front door. "I simply told them that as neighbors my community is praying for them," he said. "This just hits you at such a visceral level."

Several Somali residents sobbed as they peered inside the blood-spattered windows and saw a large pool of blood on the floor by the front counter. Candy bars, chips and other snacks were scattered across the aisles, evidence of the chaos the night before.

Faduma Hussein, a Seward resident, said through tears that she was a regular customer. "I come to buy some sugar, and some grocery items," Hussein said. She said she remembered one victim, who often worked behind the counter, as "a good man."

[Police ask anyone with information about the shootings to call 612-673-3786.] 

Staff writers Allie Shah and Richard Meryhew contributed to this report. asimons@startribune.com • 612-673-4921 dchanen@startribune.com • 612-673-4465

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