Minnesota reacts with dismay to Oregon plot

  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • November 27, 2010 - 10:45 PM

Abdirizak Bihi was sleeping when his cell phone rang before dawn Saturday.

He ignored the call and one that followed minutes later.

But when his cell kept ringing, Bihi, a Somali community activist who has been heavily involved in educating local Somalis about the threat of terrorism, finally picked up. When he did, a friend on the other end delivered stunning news:

Federal agents had arrested a Somali-born teenager in connection with a car-bomb plot in Portland, Ore.

"It was shocking," said Bihi, whose 18-year-old nephew was killed in Mogadishu last year after being recruited by the terrorist group Al-Shabab.

Many in Minneapolis' Somali community shared Bihi's dismay Saturday as news of the foiled attack spread throughout the city, home to the largest concentration of Somali refugees in the United States.

From Riverside Avenue coffee shops to the bustling Somali malls in south Minneapolis, Somali-Americans were buzzing with the news and scrambling to learn more about the suspect, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19.

Among the rumors circulating Saturday was that the teen has a stepmother in Minneapolis.

Omar Jamal, former director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, said he talked with members of the Somali community in Portland who told him that they are trying to find the stepmother, whose name Jamal did not know. Mohamud's father is believed to live in the Portland area, Jamal said.

Bihi said he also had heard that Mohamud may have a relative in Minnesota. "If it turns out to be true, it wouldn't be a surprise, because everybody who comes from Somalia has a relative here," Bihi said. "Minnesota is the hub."

Minnesota recently has been at the heart of one of the largest counterterrorism investigations since Sept. 11, 2001. The focus stems from the recruitment of 20 or more young men, nearly all of Somali descent, by the terrorist group Al-Shabab.

The investigation has resulted in more than a dozen indictments, and FBI officials say there is concern that some could return to commit violence here. To date, however, they have said that they have no indication that will happen.

FBI Special Agent E.K. Wilson, based in Minneapolis, said on Saturday that the Portland case has no apparent connection to the Minnesota investigation.

Jamal said Mohamud's alleged actions should not reflect on the Somali community in Minnesota. Nevertheless, many fear a backlash.

"A lot of people are saying, 'What's next?'" Bihi said.

Osman Dagane, 42, a cabdriver who became a U.S. citizen in 1996, said that the moment he heard Mohamud was Somali, "it affected me."

"People need to know," Dagane said, that Somalis "who come into this country as refugees don't think like that ... I have a responsibility to ... defend this country."

Mohammed Rashid, 44, who owns a Minneapolis limousine service, called Mohamud's plot "evil" and urged Somali-Americans to work with authorities.

"Thank God anything didn't happen," he said. "Again, we have to be vigilant. We have to be awake." • 612-673-4425 • 612-673-4921

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