- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2008


Three Somali families tell similar stories: A son or nephew disappears. A passport is gone. Days later the phone rings, and the teen says he’s in Somalia.

The phone call is abrupt and short on details. And then, nothing.

Relatives of three teenagers say they fear their loved ones have returned to Somalia to fight in a religious war. The impoverished nation on the Horn of Africa is in the midst of an Islamist insurgency and hasn’t had a functioning government in 17 years.

“We are not sure who is responsible,” said Hussein Samatar, a community leader and uncle to a 17-year-old who traveled to Somalia. “But we, as a community, believe they have to be held accountable.”

Mr. Samatar and other relatives confirmed Saturday that their loved ones left Minneapolis, home to one of the nation’s largest Somali communities, together on Nov. 4. The young men were identified as Burhan Hassan, 17; Mohamoud Hassan, 18; and Abdisalam Ali, 19.

Abdirizak Bihi, a community organizer and also an uncle to the 17-year-old, said that at least three more young men left the same day, and that he knows of about six others who have left and traveled to Somalia over the past two years.

“This issue of missing children has been going on for quite some time,” Mr. Bihi said. “We want our children back home.”

One man who disappeared from Minneapolis earlier is believed to have killed himself in an Oct. 29 suicide bombing that also took the lives of more than 20 people in northern Somalia, according to a U.S. law enforcement official.

The official, who was not authorized to talk publicly about the case and spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the FBI and Justice Department were investigating.

Another U.S. law enforcement official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity for the same reason, said authorities are calling that case one of the first instances of a U.S. citizen acting as a suicide bomber.

Agent E.K. Wilson, an FBI spokesman in Minneapolis, said last week that his office helped return the remains of a U.S. citizen to the city. He said the body was taken from the Oct. 29 bombing but would not confirm whether the remains were that of a suicide bomber or a victim. He would not confirm the name of the deceased.

Mr. Wilson has previously said the FBI is “aware that a number of individuals from throughout the U.S., and Minneapolis have traveled to Somalia to potentially fight for terrorist groups.”

He said Saturday that the agency is working with families and community leaders to address their concerns. He did not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

The three families who came forward Saturday said their loved ones attended Abubakar As-Saddique mosque.

Mahir Sherif, an attorney for the mosque, said the mosque and its leaders have not recruited anyone to fight in Somalia.

“They did not fund any trips. They didn’t arrange for any meetings with anybody. They didn’t encourage anybody to go there,” he said. “They have done nothing.”

Mr. Bihi, one of the organizers of Saturday’s news conference, said the families want the public to know about their children.

Relatives said Burhan Hassan, the 17-year-old, was a senior at Roosevelt High School; 18-year-old Mohamoud Hassan was studying engineering at the University of Minnesota; and 19-year-old Abdisalam Ali was studying health care at the University of Minnesota.

The three teens knew one another and were friends, and Mr. Bihi said none of them could have afforded a plane ticket back to Somalia on his own.

Warsame Hassan, a brother-in-law to Burhan Hassan, noted that Somalis have fled their homeland to escape violence and provide their children with a good education.

“We don’t know who is behind this, and we are urging authorities to get to the bottom of this,” Warsame Hassan said.

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