In the aftermath of the bloody attack in an upscale mall in Kenya by a Somali militant group, there is a good deal of concern among Somalis in the United States that they not be viewed negatively by Americans, particularly by law enforcement officials.
“We have a large community of Somalis in the Midwest and we want people to know that we are hardworking people who just want the American dream,” said Hassan Omar, the executive director of the Somali Community Association of Ohio.
“We want people to know that you can hold a group of people responsible for the actions of a few,” Omar said in an interview with BET.com. “We don’t want to feel threatened.”
The attack on the mall in Nairobi led to the deaths of 62 people and another 175 being injured. The Somalia-based militant group al-Shabab has taken responsibility for the attack, leading many Somalis in the United States to wonder how they would be viewed by Americans and law enforcement officials.
Ohio and Minnesota are two states with large populations of Somalis in the United States.
There is Minneapolis–St. Paul, nicknamed Little Mogadishu for having one of the largest populations outside of Somalia’s capital. In the past, Al-Shabab has actively sought to recruit young militants from this area. Now, speculation in the media of two Americans participating in the Kenyan mall attack has unearthed this issue once more.
Last August, Dr. Stevan Weine, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, co-published a report titled “Building Resilience to Violent Extremism Among Somali-Americans in Minneapolis–St.Paul” and also testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security.
“I suspect that this [attack] will draw attention to the risks for homegrown terrorism in the U.S., especially on the heels of the Boston marathon bombings,” said Dr. Weine, adding that this attention could increase discrimination already felt by this community.
“I hope that this serves as a wake up call to federal, state, and local government, to community leaders, and to parents, that they need to find ways to work together to diminish the risks for radicalization and recruitment.”
Leaders of Somali organizations say they are also concerned that their members are concerned about potential repercussions.
“There are already issues in the United States regarding profiling,” Omar said. "We are Black and immigrants, and we’re Muslim. So, imagine how many feel in our community now. After September 11, there was so much scrutiny. But we want people to know that we don’t have a role in what’s going on in Somalia.”
Omar said that many Somalis back home had been victims of terrorism by the militant group and that there is no sympathy for their cause among those living in the United States.
“This group, al-Shabab, has killed so many innocent people back home,” he said. “We look at them as ruthless people who have no agenda other than killing innocent people in the name of a false religion. They are not true Muslims.”
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(Photo: AP Photo/ Jerome Delay)
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