A Portland man was shot and killed outside an illegal nightclub in Providence, Rhode Island, around 3 a.m. Sunday.

Biniam Tsegai, 35, was identified by the Providence Police Department as the city’s first homicide victim of 2022, The Associated Press reported. Tsegai was 18 months into five years of supervised release from federal prison, where had been serving a sentence for a 2014 drug distribution conviction.

Police are not sure why Tsegai traveled to Rhode Island with Merhawi Berhe, 28, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, who also was wounded in the attack that took place on a street outside the so-called “sip club.”

Berhe has a connection to the handgun that was used by the Boston Marathon bombers to kill MIT police officer Sean Collier on April 18, 2013, according to the United States Department of Justice, which prosecuted Berhe for possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number.

Tsegai and Berhe had apparently been at an illegal after-hours club when they were approached by a group of four men at about 3 a.m. Sunday, Providence police Maj. David Lapatin told the AP. One of the four took out a gun and shot Tsegai and Berhe multiple times, Lapatin said. Tsegai was pronounced dead at the scene. Berhe was taken to Rhode Island Hospital, where he underwent surgery and is recovering.

“It’s a club, and they pop up here and there around the city,” Lapatin said. “After hours, after the nightclubs close, two, three o’clock, these places open. They’re not licensed. They’re not inspected. They’re just thrown together. Sometimes they’re in houses, sometimes they’re in businesses.”


Tsegai was sentenced in November 2014 in Portland to serve eight years in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess crack cocaine that he helped transport from Boston to Maine. U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Torresen made one of the conditions of Tsegai’s release to be placed under supervised release for five years. Another condition of release stipulated that he not frequent places where controlled substances were illegally sold or distributed.

Both shooting victims had spent time in federal prison. Tsegai, whose nickname was “Icy,” was released from prison in June 2020, the Boston Globe reported.

Berhe was sentenced in July 2016 to serve six months for possessing a firearm in 2013 that was later used by one of the Boston Marathon bombers to murder Collier, the United States Department of Justice said. The weapon, a Ruger P95 9mm semiautomatic handgun, was transferred by Berhe to another man, who provided the weapon to one of the Boston Marathon bombers.

It’s not clear how Tsegai became acquainted with Berhe, but according to court records, Tsegai conspired with Hamadi Hassan of Portland between 2010 and 2012 to purchase and distribute crack cocaine in the greater Portland area. Hassan, who led the trafficking operation, was sentenced to 30 years and is still in prison. At the time, Torresen said she imposed a lengthier sentence on Hassan because of his lengthy criminal history that included three prior convictions for drug trafficking and violent crimes.

Hassan and Tsegai operated their drug trafficking ring out of hotels in the greater Portland area, according to a news release issued in 2014 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Maine. They often carried firearms and held large sums of cash. They hid the crack cocaine in milk containers or cigarette cartons left randomly on the sides of roads, in bushes, under trees and in wooded areas.

The four men who approached the victims in Providence remain at large and the killing remains under investigation, the AP reported. It’s unclear if they knew Tsegai and Berhe or why the victims traveled to Rhode Island, Lapatin said.

“This is an unacceptable act of violence, and my heart hurts for the family and friends of the victims,” Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said on Twitter.

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