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About 20 men stood around the hole in the frozen ground as the white-shrouded body was lowered into the grave. Then, as the women waited back by the cars in the cemetery, the men began tossing shovelfuls of dirt onto the body of Shirwa Ahmed.
Ahmed, a Minneapolis resident, is believed to have blown himself up in Somalia in October, a suicide bomber in an ongoing civil war. The FBI, which still won't officially confirm Ahmed's death, said only that it helped return the body of a U.S. resident from Somalia to Minneapolis. Ahmed's family members declined to answer questions at his funeral Wednesday.
But his death -- and the reported disappearance of as many as 10 young Somali men -- continues to fuel rumors, fear and anger among Minneapolis' Somali community. Some worry that local men have been indoctrinated at local mosques to return to the land of their families to fight. Others question the motives of those who have raised alarm without providing hard proof.
But on a cold, sunny day when a body was lowered into a plot in the Garden of Eden Cemetery in Burnsville, those on both sides admit concern about whether others who have left the United States to fight or not will be able to come home -- with or without a shroud of their own.
Attorney Mahir Sherif, who represents local mosques, said no one at the mosques has wooed men to fight. But he said he has seen some in the community call young men to arms. And that raises the possibility that they could become tainted in the eyes of U.S. officials.
"The whole issue raises some interesting questions," he said, noting that the number of men rumored to have left to fight has dropped from 45 to possibly fewer than 10.
"Let's say they went in answer to a call to stop aggression. Or maybe they just left to protect their grandmother. Do people have a right to return to a country to fight? Will it be a crime?" he asked. "And does the government even want them back, especially if they have been trained over there?"
Sheikh Abdirahman Ahmed of the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque in Minneapolis was prohibited from leaving the country Saturday, Sherif said, because his mosque is rumored to be connected to the missing men. It's a rumor that Sherif denies.
Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in Minneapolis, believes that some men have been convinced to go and fight. He said Wednesday that Ahmed's death should raise concern throughout the community.
"We look at him as a victim, rather than a criminal, because someone got into his mind," he said. "He has been indoctrinated. He has been brainwashed. He is a victim of some very complicated ideology. It is very sad."
James Walsh • 612-673-7428