A Minnesota Somali community leader said Thursday that he has multiple photos of a dead soldier believed to be a second man with Minnesota ties killed while fighting with terrorists in Syria.
Omar Jamal, former head of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center and a longtime Somali activist in Minneapolis, said he showed the photos to a person acquainted with Abdirahmaan Muhumed, and that person felt sure it was Muhumed.
Jamal cautioned however that he, himself, could not say for certain whether the dead soldier pictured was Muhumed. “People are saying it’s him, but I don’t know for sure,” Jamal said.
The FBI in Minneapolis and the U.S. State Department would not confirm Thursday whether a second American had been killed while fighting for the terror group, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIL).
There have been unconfirmed reports that Muhumed died in the same clash as Douglas McAuthur McCain, who attended Robbinsdale Cooper High School in New Hope and later lived in San Diego before he left the country. On Wednesday, a State Department spokesman said it was looking into a report that a second American had died in the fighting.
Reports of Muhumed’s reported death heightened concerns that a new wave of Minnesota men are leaving the country to join terrorist groups, much like a previous group that went back to Somalia in recent years. Most who went to Somalia died not long after arriving, including a suicide bomber.
The latest departures are reportedly heading to Syria, via Turkey, to fight alongside the ISIL armies that have won control over a vast swath of territory in Syria and Iraq. U.S. intelligence agencies have identified nearly a dozen Americans fighting for ISIL, according to the New York Times.
Jamal showed two of the purported photos of Muhumed’s corpse — stored in his cellphone — to Star Tribune reporters. One showed a man clad in a green khaki uniform with a gaping wound to the side of his head.
Muhumed, 29, left Minneapolis about two years ago, said Jamal, director of a new foundation called American Friends of Somalia. Muhumed was the father of nine children and had reportedly struggled to support them.
Jamal said he met Thursday with families whose sons are missing and may have also left to join ISIL. He said there is a new push underway in the local Somali community to engage with disaffected teens in order to dissuade them from becoming radicalized.
Mohamud Noor, executive director of the Confederation of the Somali Community in Minnesota, said that last spring he and other Somali community leaders met with FBI agents to discuss “how to get the message out about young men who have been recruited.” He added that federal authorities have told him that they’ve recently detained some Somalis who were attempting to depart from the Twin Cities airport to Turkey.
Noor said the apparent radicalization of Muhumed has left the community puzzled. “He wasn’t a religious person at all,” Noor said. “The key question is how he took a 180-degree turn from who he was. How did he get the resources to go to Turkey or Syria?”
Photos from social media sites show Muhumed posing in various roles — from showing off his muscles to hanging with musicians to raising an automatic rifle in the air.
Meanwhile, a woman who identified herself on Facebook as his sister posted a message on Muhumed’s Facebook page, pleading with him to contact her amid the reports of his death. “this is your sister if u still live pls let us knw,” wrote Barwaaqo Ahmed. “You’re causing me huge pain and worry. If you are dead, may God bless your soul.”
A friend of Muhumed’s wrote on his Facebook page in July, complimenting him for going to fight: “Beautiful strong Somali soldier is what you are, your a warrior, a brave-heart Muslim warrior,’’ the message read in part.
Diversion to Syria
For the past few months, the FBI in Minneapolis had been looking into a handful of people from the Twin Cities who allegedly traveled to fight for terrorist organizations in Syria, said FBI spokesman Kyle Loven.
“We are concerned how this radicalization and recruitment is being facilitated,” he said. “Those questions are high priority, and we want to answer them very shortly.”
McCain, 33, was the first American to die fighting for ISIL. Years before, he became friends with classmate Troy Kastigar and the two were roommates in Minneapolis.
Kastigar, 28, was killed in Somalia in 2009 while fighting with the terror group Al-Shabab.
Both men had converted to Islam, with relatives left to wonder why the men turned to radical causes.
One of McCain’s cousins, Kenyata McCain, told the Star Tribune this week that she was in touch with him last Friday and “he was telling all of us he was in Turkey.” She noted that his Facebook page indicated that he supported ISIL.
McCain moved to San Diego in 2008, where he briefly worked at a restaurant and attended a mosque. A sister, Delecia, eulogized her brother on Facebook this week. “This is absolutely unreal to me. I love you big brother,” she wrote.
Staff Writer David Chanen contributed to this report.