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

(Continued from page 1)

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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Dini said he has not heard of or seen any recruitment by al-Shabab in Maine.

Mohamud Yusuf, a University of Southern Maine student from Somalia, said he has never made it through a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at an airport without being subjected to a “random” search.

“I get picked out of the line every time,” said the 24-year-old Freeport resident, a senior in international studies and political science whose family left Somalia 20 years ago. He hasn’t been back since.

Hashim Noh, a Somali native who was with friends Monday outside the Portland Halaal Market, said they were waiting to learn the truth about the mall attack.

Noh said al-Shabab is universally disliked by the local Somali population.

“They are bad. They killed many people,” he said, referring to the country’s civil war, which has lasted more than two decades and driven more than a million Somalis from their homeland.

A man who was with Noh, wearing a traditional tunic and kufi cap, got agitated, waving his arms and speaking emphatically.

“He says al-Shabab set his village on fire,” Noh translated.

Ahmed Hassan, an elder in Portland’s Somali community, said it’s impossible to know whether a single, misguided youth from Maine might have been manipulated into participating in the attack.

Still, he said the actions and goals of al-Shabab do not represent those of the Somali-American community.

Given the pain, suffering and loss most Somali refugees have endured, he said, the last thing they would do is support terrorism.

“An adult person who sacrificed and crossed borders and went to refugee camps, I don’t think he’s going to buy into this idea,” Hassan said.

Reza Jalali, USM’s multicultural student affairs coordinator, who works closely with the local Somali community, said Somalis are concerned about the allegations.

“They are quite shaken, they feel quite vulnerable. They are quite scared,” he said.

Jalali said he spoke with Somali students Monday who said they haven’t heard anything beyond what was reported in the media about possible al-Shabab recruitment in the Portland area.

“They think it’s possible that it could have happened elsewhere,” he said.

The allegation that Portland is a terrorist recruitment center for al-Shabab dates back to at least March 2009, when an FBI report cited Portland as one of several U.S. cities where members of Somali immigrant populations might be vulnerable to recruitment by the al-Qaida-linked group. Other named cities included Minneapolis-St. Paul, San Diego and Seattle, all of which have large Somali populations.

As of 2012, there were about 6,000 immigrants from Somalia in Maine, including about 1,000 members of the Bantu ethnic minority group.

Jalali, an expert on immigrants in Maine, said most of the state’s Somali-born residents came to the U.S. as part of a refugee relocation program that began in the early 1990s.

Maine is one of the few states that accept refugees, he said. Others include Minnesota, where the greatest number of Somali refugees live, and Georgia, Jalali said.

Many of the Somali refugees in Maine originally were placed in other cities but moved to southern Maine because of its low crime rate, relatively affordable housing and tolerant view of foreigners, he said.
The allegation that al-Shabab has tried to recruit Mainers has been repeated several times since 2009 in blog posts and online news articles, especially after the arrests in 2010 of several people in Minnesota, California and Alabama on charges of providing support for al-Shabab.

There is so far no evidence beyond the recent tweets to support the idea that al-Shabab was successful in recruiting someone from Maine.

Regardless of whether the allegation is true, Jalali said, it’s important for those outside the refugee community to remember that al-Shabab is a fringe group and does not represent typical Somali views.

(Continued on page 3)

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