The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 73/No. 19      May 18, 2009

FBI interrogates Somali
students in Minneapolis
MINNEAPOLIS—New information has come to light about the scope and character of FBI interrogations of Somalis here. Especially targeted have been Somalis at the University of Minnesota.

The questioning of the students is part of a wide-ranging investigation by the FBI over the last several months. The interrogations include questioning and visiting individuals in their homes, at educational institutions, and at airports about the “disappearances” of some 20 local Somali youth, who the bureau alleges have gone to fight for the al-Shabab Islamist militia in Somalia.

University of Minnesota student Ruqia Mohamed described her encounter with the FBI to the Minnesota Daily, a student newspaper. “Mohamed said the FBI agents were ‘two young girls dressed casual, unlike those I see on TV.’ They came into her house with pictures of missing men and local mosques in the Twin Cities,” the paper stated.

Mohamed told the Daily, “They asked me about how [one of the two missing men from the University] used to dress and the mosques he attended.” In the newspaper interview with the Daily, she asked if such questions are relevant.

Fathi Gelle, president of the Somali Student Association at the university, told the Daily that many students initially talked to the FBI. “At first, she said many people volunteered information to the FBI, but only some have been repeatedly questioned.” Gelle stated it is “wrong that the FBI is approaching the students in the campus.”

Mukhtar Osman, a senior at the university, told the Militant that the FBI agents have come to the offices of the Somali Student Association a couple of times. “Typically the FBI agents ask, ‘Can I talk to you for five minutes.’ But once you start talking to them it is hard to get away,” he said.

Over the months of the investigation, “the Somali community has had a really bad experience with the FBI,” said Osman. “Frequently they don’t know your full name when they approach you. ‘Are you so-and-so?’ they ask, using just the first name. ‘Yes, let’s go and talk.’ Many of us initially were scared and think we are in trouble. They don’t ask you if you want to talk. Many of the very young and elderly don’t know their rights.”

Aman Osiywe, a graduate student, said he knows a number of students who have been questioned. “They catch you coming out of class or at the library. They ask you many questions that are not relevant. ‘Which clan do you belong to? How many times a day do you pray? What mosque do you go to?’ The investigation should be done more professionally. I don’t trust what’s going on.”

Rashid Ali, a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, said that the announced motive for the FBI investigation “sounded like an exaggeration. The FBI says these youth might come back and carry out terrorist activity here. However, these youth are tagged. Personally I think the investigation is a scare tactic.”

The interrogations have prompted the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to send letters to area high schools, colleges, and institutions asking for legal support to Somali students who have been questioned on campus by the FBI. The agents have questioned them without lawyers present.
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