September 24, 2013

Portland Somalis fearful of backlash

They see no sign of terrorist recruitment but worry that the Kenya mall attack will harm the community.

By J. Craig Anderson
Staff Writer

and Dennis Hoey
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Somali residents of Portland said Monday that they have seen no evidence of terrorist groups such as al-Shabab trying to recruit members in Maine’s largest city.

click image to enlarge

Hussein Ali and Issa Adaan discuss the attack Monday. “I don’t think any Somalian living in the United States is happy with what happened in Kenya,” Ali says.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Ahmed Hassan of Portland says the last thing local Somalis would do is support terrorism.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Two days after the group killed at least 62 people in an attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Somalis in Portland said it makes no sense, for people who fled their homeland to escape violence, to participate in terror.

“I hate (al-Shabab) and I don’t want to hear about them,” said Issa Adaan, 29. “This city is our city and I love it.”

But some Somali elders who were interviewed said they have heard that terrorist groups such as al-Shabab prey on young men in the United States who are homeless, high school dropouts or addicted to drugs because they are the people most vulnerable to recruitment.

Many expressed concern that news of Saturday’s terrorist attack in Kenya will harm the Somali community in Maine, increasing the discrimination that it already endures.

Adaan, who came to the United States in 2010, said his mother and brothers are living in a refugee camp in Kenya and he hasn’t seen his mother in 10 years.

Adaan was one of about 40 Somali men who gathered Monday night at the Portland Halaal Market on St. John Street.

Some gathered on the sidewalk outside the market while others went into a back room, where they watched a CNN television report on the situation in Nairobi. The men meet in the room each night to socialize, watch television and play cards.

Sunday’s news that a Twitter feed purporting to belong to al-Shabab named a person in Maine as being involved in Saturday’s attack has Somalis bracing for everything from racial profiling to hate crimes, their representatives said.

The report was particularly disturbing to Badr Sharif, 24, who is majoring in international relations at the University of Maine.

“Things like that can happen but it is unconfirmed. Spreading rumors can bring great harm to our community,” Sharif said.

The FBI, state and local officials said they are still investigating whether the information released via Twitter is accurate, but Somalis in southern Maine said they are familiar with al-Shabab and can’t imagine why anyone who made it to the U.S. from war-torn Somalia would get involved with the group.

The Twitter feed has been disabled, but not before it identified one person as being a Somali from Maine. The Portland Press Herald is not publishing identities of the alleged attackers because it could not independently verify them.

Hussein Ali, 70, said he has been living in Portland for 10 years. He said, “I don’t think any Somalian living in the United States is happy with what happened in Kenya.”

Ali said he was surprised when he heard a media report that al-Shabab was recruiting members from Portland. He said he believes that the terrorist organization is targeting young men who are destitute.

Ali said he has never heard of or seen anyone from al-Shabab trying to recruit members in Portland.

Mohammed Dini, executive director of the African Diaspora Institute in Portland, said in a prepared statement that repercussions from multiple unsubstantiated news reports can harm the Somali community.
“Though incredible progress has been made integrating new Mainers over the past decade, rumors can still easily become the single story by which we are defined in Maine,” said Dini, who is from Somalia. “Reporting based on speculation directly impacts the everyday lives of immigrants in our communities.”

Dini said young Somali-Americans still are called “terrorists” and told to “go back home” by strangers on the street, even if they were born in the United States or have spent most of their lives in Maine.

(Continued on page 2)

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