Somalis react to FBI ‘terror plot’

The Somali community is afraid of backlash and is distrustful of the FBI’s motives.

Lolla Mohammed Nur

The FBIâÄôs arrest of Somali-American teenager Mohamed Osman Mohamud in Oregon caused palpable waves of shock and fear in the Twin Cities Somali community.

Minnesota Somalis were still recuperating from FBI harassment on account of the 20 missing men who allegedly joined the Somali rebel group Al-Shabab âÄî which is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government âÄî over two years ago.

Last monthâÄôs sex trafficking ring bust reverberated through the community as well. And little over a week ago, news broke that undercover FBI agents were facilitating 19-year-old MohamudâÄôs alleged terror plot for the last six months.

The FBI says the purpose of its sting operation was to provide Mohamud the equipment necessary to carry out the bombing at a Christmas event.

But others âÄî with Salon.comâÄôs Glenn Greenwald being the most vocal âÄî have suggested what the FBI did was entrap Mohamud into carrying out the plan, thereby manufacturing a terror plot to suit their own ends.

Conveniently, there are no recordings available of the meeting during which Mohamud allegedly said he would rather detonate a bomb instead of raising money to fund terrorism abroad.

Also omitted from most media accounts is MohamudâÄôs motive. Increasingly, research shows that anti-U.S. terrorism is caused by American foreign occupations, as a recent Foreign Policy magazine article argues.

Sure enough, the FBI quotes Mohamud as saying his motive was “for you to refrain from killing our children, women âĦ And itâÄôs not fair that they should do that to people and not feeling it.”

American fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan has motivated many terrorist attacks and could very well have been the rationale behind MohamudâÄôs plotting. But before casting blame on Islam or the American Somali community, it is worth taking a close look at the FBIâÄôs investigation.

Twenty-five-year-old Zuhur Ahmed, a University of Minnesota alumna and host on KFAI community radio, said her first reaction was disbelief. Because her program covers Somali youth issues, media outlets often ask for her opinion on youth violence.

“The question they usually ask me is if the [20 missing] kids will come back here and plot terror activities, and my answer would always be no, so I was in denial.” But after she learned more about MohamudâÄôs story, Ahmed felt like he was set up.

“I felt like the FBI wanted to prove a point and convince the public that somethingâÄôs being done to address terrorism,” she said.

Skepticism and mistrust of the FBI is not new in the Somali community. After the Somali men went missing, the FBI began an investigation of a Somali mosque, and last year agents interrogated University students on campus.

The result has been a great deal of tension with law enforcement. Ahmed told me the FBI instructed some students to not talk to the media about the men.

“ThereâÄôs a sense of fear all the time because authorities feel like itâÄôs them against us and they donâÄôt give time to get to know the community,” Ahmed said. “TheyâÄôve failed to [create trust] in the past. They not only fail but they have done [us] wrong.”

She said she consistently sees similarities with how authorities and the media sensationalize problems in the Somali community.

“They donâÄôt humanize us. For them itâÄôs a subject of investigation or interest,” she lamented. “This definitely is a trust-breaking moment … [The FBI] subjugated [Mohamud] and looked at him as an enemy.”

University journalism senior Mukhtar Ibrahim agrees Mohamud was manipulated. He thinks the hate crime committed against MohamudâÄôs mosque a few days after the story broke was because of the media hype.

“If someone commits a crime, that person is a criminal, and that should not affect the community,” he said. “If someone is crazy and confused, that [story] should die as soon as the person is taken to jail. Or else itâÄôll create more fear.”

Besides fear of the FBI and hate crimes, Somali students expressed shock that terrorism is becoming a community problem. University junior Osman Ahmed said customers at work have asked him if he knows about Mohamud, which surprises him.

“I have nothing to do with it and I donâÄôt mention politics, but I still get asked about it,” said the political science and global studies major. “People think the Somali community knows something and that we have information, which isnâÄôt true.”

Many students said they expect parents to be more watchful over their teenagers because of false claims that Mohamud had family problems, particularly with his father. In fact, it was his father who turned him into the FBI over a year ago.

“I understand the FBI needs to keep people safe, but as soon as they found out, they should have just locked him up. What more evidence did they need?” wondered Maryam Warsame, an urban education sophomore at Metropolitan State University.

Warsame said if mosques would take a more active role in talking to youth about terrorism, problems like youth violence wouldnâÄôt happen.

There is no consensus about what the FBI should have done in its investigation, but Somali and Muslim organizations have made it clear that terrorism is unacceptable.

“Crime and terrorism donâÄôt define our community. ItâÄôs like saying one rotten apple defines all the good ones. TheyâÄôre not all rotten, theyâÄôre mostly good,” Warsame said.

“And that goes for the religion; just because one person thinks [violent] jihad is the right to way to submit to God doesnâÄôt mean every Muslim is going to do this.”

 

Lolla Mohammed Nur welcomes comments at [email protected].