Fourth young man from Minnesota dies in Somalia

  • Star Tribune
  • July 13, 2009 - 12:13 PM

For the second time in two days, a Somali man from Minneapolis has been reported killed in his war-torn homeland, a relative confirmed Sunday.

Zakaria Maruf, 30, who is believed to have been among the first wave of young Somali men to leave Minnesota for Somalia over the past two years, was killed Saturday in Mogadishu, the relative said.

Maruf is the fourth Somali man from the Twin Cities to have died in Somalia since October.

The relative said she did not know how Maruf was killed, adding that she learned of his death in a phone conversation with his wife.

On Saturday, the family of Jamal Bana, 20, of Minneapolis, learned that he had been killed in Somalia after seeing a photograph of his body on a Somali news website. Bana had been shot in the head.

FBI spokesman E.K. Wilson said Sunday that he cannot confirm the deaths and could not comment further "due to the ongoing investigation."

For more than a year, federal authorities have been investigating a possible connection between terrorist groups and the disappearances of as many as 20 young Somalis from the Twin Cities over the past two years.

One of those men, Shirwa Ahmed, 26, was killed in a suicide bombing during a series of coordinated attacks in northern Somalia in October. He was the first U.S. citizen known to have carried out a suicide bombing.

A second Minneapolis man, Burhan Hassan, 18, was shot and killed in early June, according to his family. Hassan died a day before his Roosevelt High School classmates graduated.

Maruf, who had a history of skirmishes with other Somalis and the law while living in Minneapolis, is believed to have communicated with some of the other young Somalis in the Twin Cities, encouraging them to join him in their homeland, according to a Somali source.

A prominent Somali community leader in Minneapolis who asked not to be named said Sunday that Maruf, a short, muscular man who played soccer for the local Somali Tigers club, had a troubled past and problems with his family.

He also may have been homeless before becoming more involved with his mosque, the source said.

"One day he'd be fighting in the streets, and the next day he'd be at the mosque," he said.

He said that the "mosque kind of found him, and he was one of those who was helped by the mosque."

A community youth leader who once worked with Maruf said Sunday that once Maruf became more religious, he left street life behind.

Bana's friends and family said he, too, also became very religious before leaving his south Minneapolis home Nov. 4 for Somalia.

His mother said Sunday that her son was naive about the turmoil and danger in his homeland when he abruptly left Minnesota without telling his loved ones.

"My son had no clue about Somalia," a weeping Abayte Ahmed said through an interpreter in the front yard of her home Sunday. "Somebody must have put something in his mind. ... Someone someplace is responsible for his disappearance."

Ahmed, speaking through an interpreter, Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, said Bana was only a year old when his family fled Somalia for the United States. She said he was studying engineering while a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

Bana's uncle, who also used Jamal as an interpreter, said his family doesn't know why Bana left home for Somalia or who went with him. By the time the family knew he was gone, "there was nothing they could do about it," he said.

Ahmed said that her son called home Nov. 15 -- 11 days after he disappeared -- to say he was in Somalia. But he didn't say much, "and talked as if he was held hostage."

She said it was the only time he called his parents.

She said the family has asked the FBI to retrieve her son's body and return it to Minnesota for burial.

Abdirizak Bihi, Burhan Hassan's uncle and a community organizer, said Sunday that there are rumors several other Twin Cities Somali men who returned to their homeland over the past two years also may have been killed recently.

He said families of the missing are anxious for news, and are working to learn whether "our sons" have been killed. • 612-673-4488 • 612-673-7428 • 612-673-4425

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