Minnesota's sizable African communities raised their voices Wednesday against the terrorist attack in Kenya.
Just back from a visit with the president of Somalia and Kenyan ambassador in Washington D.C., a group of young Minnesota Somali artists denounced the attack on a Nairobi shopping mall and stressed a need to tackle the issues that lead some youth to terrorism.
"No one becomes radicalized overnight," said Mohamed Farah, executive director of Ka Joog. Members of the group of men in their 20s who have grown up in the U.S. spoke at a news conference at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.
The process is gradual, the root cause: a lack of jobs, mentors and activities that give youth a voice. "These are underlying issues that we must face as a community to combat Al-Shabab," Farah said.
Some 20 young Minnesota men have left for Somalia to fight with Al-Shabab — a small fraction of the Minnesota Somali community, Ka Joog members pointed out. They said Al-Shabab's recruiting tactics have changed over the years, and the group now has a strong social media presence.
Ka Joog tries to counter with its own messages on Facebook and Twitter, said Abdul Mohamed, marketing and public relations director. "We have to put ourselves in their shoes and appeal to the youth," he said, noting that the terrorists also use religion in their sales pitch to recruit members. "Al-Shabab as a terrorist organization, they're very good at what they do. They tell these children that there's a religious, a better life. They use a religious justification to back their efforts," he said.
Members of Minnesota's Kenyan community also stood before the media at the State Capitol Wednesday to say they will not retaliate for the Nairobi attack, and they believe that Kenyans and Somalis in Minnesota can work to strengthen their ties here.
"To see this act of unspeakable terror upon our citizens reminds us all that we live in a world where others seek to destroy our way of life," said Pastor Zipporah Bogonko. "Yet, we will not retaliate with hate or retribution but extend our love and hospitality — that is who we are as a people."
About 10,000 native Kenyans live in Minnesota and many waited anxiously for word over the weekend about whether relatives or friends had been caught in the terror attack at a Nairobi shopping mall where at least 67 people died and hundreds were injured when the Somali-based terror organization Al-Shabab attacked with explosives and fire arms.
Kenya has been home to millions of refugees, including hundreds of thousands from neighboring Somalia, and many in Minnesota's Somali community, the largest in the U.S., spent time in Kenya before coming to this country.
Henry Ongeri, an attorney, said Kenyans and Somalis here have enjoyed a close relationship that is likely to continue. Kenyans and Somalis interact regularly as members of the state's East African community. Many have intermarried.
"We view this as an act perpetuated by a very small section of a group known as Al-Shabab," Ongeri said. "We don't believe that this by itself would cause any tensions. They are our brothers. I'm confident that we're going to continue to be the good friends and neighbors we've always been."
Eagan resident Kihanya Mwaura learned earlier Wednesday that a cousin's husband had been among those killed. He said if there turns out to be a Minnesota connection to the attacks, both the Kenyan and Somali communities can come together. The Kenyan leaders said it was helpful that Somali leaders in Minnesota earlier this week condemned the attacks.
"They are not really attacking the government, they are attacking young kids," Mwaura said. "It's a sad feeling if it's your neighbors. All we are hoping is, that if they are, then the Somali community and the Kenya community can come together."
On Saturday, Kenyans in Minnesota will sponsor a prayer service at 5801 John Martin Drive in Brooklyn Center at 5 p.m. An account for donations also has been set up in the name of Pray4Kenya at Anchor Bank. The account number is 100064781.
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