An unwelcome spotlight falls on Minnesota's Somali community because of Nairobi attack

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Marco Werman: Minneapolis-St. Paul, the Twin Cities, they're home to one of the largest Somali communities in the US, and law enforcement officials have been watching the Twin Cities closely for some time, because in the past al-Shabab has successfully recruited among the area's young Somali-Americans. We're going to get a community perspective on this from Zuhur Ahmed. She's 28 years old and used to host a radio show for the Somali community in Minneapolis. First of all, Zuhur, what's been the conversation like when you speak to Somalis, Somali-Americans? How are people reacting?

Zuhur Ahmed: Since the emerge of al-Shabab, I think the community kind of went through a great transformation where right away there has been an immediate response from the community leaders denouncing and condemning the act of terror, making it clear to the world that al-Shabab does not represent the Somalis and they don't have same values, or their values and missions are not aligned, and they have nothing to do with Somalis or the Muslim faith.

Werman: Does anyone in the Twin Cities in the Somali community think or maybe even wondered whether any of the attackers were from the Twin Cities?

Ahmed: There has been speculations that two of them were here because in previous attacks that were carried by al-Shabab young Somalis that left from Minnesota were involved. They were easily identified right away, so the fact that no one came and identified their family members or friends and whatnot made me question if that's really true.

Werman: Right, as you say, that would be speculation, but it wouldn't be a stretch. You know some men in the Twin Cities who were recruited and involved in a previous Shabab attack in Mogadishu, in Somalia.

Ahmed: Yeah, I knew two of the men that were recruited who went back to fight with the Islamist or the jihadist group al-Shabab. Went to school, and kind of knew them from the community. I knew other ones as well.

Werman: I'm curious, what is that like for an immigrant community like the Somalis here in the US to have its young members leave, disappear, go somewhere where their end could frankly be pretty brutal?

Ahmed: I think that goes back to the original issue, the kind of the root cause, the source of where this all start out. It's a sense of belonging, it's identity crisis, and there's this group that outreaching for them, that's somehow indoctrinating them, telling them that you belong here. Their mission statement somehow seems to be somewhat attractive. A good number of the ones that left back have been previous members of gang here in Minnesota, so that kind of tells you the trend or who they look to outreach to once they get tired of that gang and street life and being homeless and being the violent. They go to the mosque and then they have someone who tells them that afterlife is better but there are conditions that comes to reach that point. And somehow they set this appealing goal to them.

Werman: What about those two young recruits whom you knew in high school? Does this kind of description scan for them as well, identity crisis?

Ahmed: I interviewed them in my radio show, I think few months before he left to Somalia. In that interview, and I kind of go back and listen to it, and I just hear him echo how much lost he was and it kind of really breaks my heart just to know that. He's dead now, but just to know that so many young lives are lost to gangs and to terrorist groups just because they're lost and they don't have great role models, or a terror group that's saying come, we'll give you a home, we'll accept you.

Werman: Tell me briefly about your own time in the Twin Cities, Zuhur. How did you get there and has assimilation ever been difficult for you?

Ahmed: I left Somalia shortly after the civil war, migrated to Syria, then to here. Came here when I was 13, so it's a struggle whether you're young or old, but it's an identity in who I am. It even became a bigger question when I went back home in 2011 and realized I'm not as 100 percent as a Somali as I thought I am.

Werman: Zuhur Ahmed is a Somali-American resident of the Twin Cities and currently works as a community health worker there. Zuhur, great to meet you. Thanks so much for your time.

Ahmed: Thank you.

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