The vanishing Somali boys

Officials at a local mosque have scheduled a Tuesday news conference to confront growing rumors that they are helping to receuit young Somali men to fight on behalf of Islamic extremists in Somalia. The news conference comes after the Star Tribune asked — but did not answer — the question of the mosque’s involvement in an article today.

Two weeks ago, National Public Radio reported on the disappearance of young Somalis in several U.S. cities and, like the Star Tribune, it seemed to implicate the Abubakar mosque in Minneapolis.

The most recent disappearances happened last November, on Election Day. That’s when 17-year-old Burhan Hassan and six of his friends seemed to vanish. As the rest of the Somali community in the Twin Cities’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood were watching the election returns, the boys slipped away, boarded a plane and headed to Africa.

“My sister called me and said Burhan is missing,” says Abdirizak Bihi, Hassan’s uncle. He runs a local youth center where all the Somali kids play basketball and video games after school.

So far, officials at the mosque haven’t confronted the allegations. In the Star Tribune story, a lawyer in California, said to be a consultant to the mosque, denied any connection.

“To this date, there has never been anything specific to indicate that Abubakar recruits or that anybody at Abubakar said to these young men, ‘Go fight Jihad,'” said Mahir Sherif.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR’s national security correspondent, told the network’s News & Notes program last week that between a dozen and 20 Somali kids have disappeared. She says nearly all of them were bright, college-bound students, brought up by single mothers near the mosque.

The FBI isn’t talking, but the Christian Science Monitor says it stumbled into “an active investigation” in Atlanta last month when an FBI agent showed up at a meeting of Liberians, seeking information about missing Somali boys.

Because Somali kids were disappearing. Not in Atlanta yet, that he knew of. But “six or seven high school kids,” former refugees resettled in Minnesota’s Twin Cities area, the largest Somali community in the US, had recently been recruited by an extremist group through a mosque there and sent back to Somalia to train as suicide bombers.

Newsweek magazine said the FBI is concerned that the extremist group, al-Shabab (a spokesman for the group is shown below in December promising more attacks in Mogadishu) , might create “sleeper cells” in the United States.


“There is always a concern about spillover, bleed-out, call it what you will,” an unnamed U.S. official tracking the case told the Los Angeles Times. “Especially if they were to return on a U.S. passport.”

Sheik Abdirahman Ahmed of the mosque denied to Newsweek that any Somalia fighters have lectured at his mosque.

“No one knows for sure who recruited them,” the Times quotes Abdisalam Adam, an educator who heads the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Minneapolis. “But they obviously did not wake up one morning and decide to go.”

  • beryl k gullsgate duluth

    The photo at the top of the page is not identified as to who, what or where. I assume it is not Riverside Towers. Does it not then foster the idea that is still but a ‘rumor’ in relation to what happened to the youth who disappeared…innocent until proven guilty may be a wiser way to present the story…photos included…or at least apppropriately identified?

  • Bob Collins

    If you read the article, you’ll find the identification of the photo.

    The question isn’t so much what happened to the youth, the question is HOW it happened.

  • beryl k gullsgate duluth

    After my first cup of morning coffee I reread the article and yes at the bottom of the article the photo is belatedly identified…however, the photo still suggests more than has yet been determined of the fate of the boys and I find – with all the photos from the original article showing the Mpls. community in all its normal community happenings – the photo used is initially misleading.

    We live in a time of quick rumors and conclusions; blogging half-truths before they are proved…and it is so easy to condemn a community of citizens who don’t look like cookie-cutter copies of many of the rest of us, with a story of a few of its youth and that story poorly illustrated by a deceptive photo involving a storyline yet not established by the media.

    Hate thrives on misconceptions and it’s easy for many to accept and label a whole Somali community for what is or may be the tragic loss of a few for whatever yet to be determined reasons…that is my point hopefully now clarified?

  • Bob Collins

    I see nothing in the article that concludes what has happened to the boys. It clearly documents the concerns and makes clear that nothing has been determined other than one of the local kids blew himself up.

    There’s nothing in the article that condemns “an entire community.” You might be bringing some preconceptions to your read.

    I did move the image down closer to the reference to al-Shabab. Nobody is making up the existence of al-Shabab.

    This has been a MUCH bigger story in the Somali community press than in the “white media,” for the record.

  • beryl k gullsgate

    Hey, neat…you moved the picture down next to the point of reference. Helps some in relation to public perception, maybe…and by the way NPR did a fine coverage on the greater article earlier. Certainly were some better pics as ‘point of reference’ in that coverage, eh?…so it goes…

  • Bob Collins

    // Certainly were some better pics as ‘point of reference’ in that coverage, eh?…so it goes…

    I guess. They used a picture of a truckload of armed Somalis. I just used people sitting at a table.

  • Jennifer B

    Did anyone else find it rather odd that the FBI would be seeking information from Liberians about disappearances in the Somali community?

    I’ve worked with members of both communities here in Minnesota and haven’t seen much overlap. Besides the fact that their countries are geographically on the opposite sides of Africa, the cultures seem to be quite different.

    Any word on why they’d be looking for information there?

  • kennedy

    gullsgate – Maybe I am steroetyping, but masked men with assault rifles do not evoke love, peace, and harmony. These are the thugs who are suspected of kidnapping the young men. Putting their picture in the story is valid.

    Hats off to the family who spoke out. That took a lot of courage, risking both retaliation from their own community and being ostracized by our community. Their willingness to call out this mosque illuminates the difference between mainstream immigrants and extremists.

    If you equate the family of the missing youth with the thugs who brainwashed them simply because they are both outside your “cookie cutter”, perhaps it is you who are jumping to conclusions.