|Somalis in Minneapolis are bracing for new round of attacks on workers rights following massacre in Nairobi, Kenya. Above, protest May 16 against frame-up of two Somali women sentenced following day to prison terms of 20 years and 10 years for support to “terrorist” group.
Along with sending scores of FBI and New York Joint Terrorism Task Force agents to Nairobi, the FBI made it clear that their probes into the Somali community in Minneapolis “is active and remains a priority,” reported the Associated Press Sept. 24.
According to the U.S. Census, Minnesota has about 32,000 Somalis, the largest concentration in the U.S. Many here say the real figure is much higher. Similar FBI operations are other cities with large Somali communities, including San Diego and Columbus, Ohio.
Al-Shabab, an Islamist armed group linked to al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the killing of nearly 70 people in the Westgate mall in Kenya.
Al-Shabab’s stated aim is to overthrow the U.S.-backed Somali government, but has increasingly turned to random violence against workers and others in Kenya and other countries the group claims back the regime in Mogadishu.
The foreign minister of Kenya, Amina Mohamed, said in a Sept. 23 interview with PBS NewsHour that “two or three Americans” were among the attackers, and speculated Minnesota might be one of the places they came from.
For the past several years the FBI has led an all-out assault on the democratic rights of Somalis. This includes wide-ranging interrogations of area Somalis about the “disappearances” of more than 20 youth, who the bureau alleges have gone to fight for al-Shabab in Somalia. Al-Shabab was designated a “terrorist organization” in 2008 by the U.S. government.
Code-named “Operation Rhino,” government agents “have been conducting a long-running, international investigation into a pipeline that supplies men from Minneapolis to the Somalia-based foreign terrorist organization al-Shabab,” reports the website of the Offices of the United States Attorneys. In addition to the FBI, the investigation includes the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, as well as intelligence agencies overseas.
Last year FBI Supervisory Special Agent E.K. Wilson said the operation “is one of the largest counterterrorism campaigns since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda,” and that the operation “has received attention at the highest levels of the U.S. government, including the White House.”
The authorities have used many tools in their efforts: frame-up charges and intimidating prison sentences, FBI raids of money-transfer businesses, secret FBI informers, deportations, grand jury investigations, wiretaps authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act secret courts, and placing people on government “no fly” lists
Last May, Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, two Somali women from Rochester, Minn., convicted of sending “material aid” — clothing and funds they raised going door to door — to al-Shabab, were sentenced to 20- and 10-year prison terms.
Over a 10-month period the FBI wiretapped some 30,000 phone calls and searched the two women’s computers and emails, homes and trash. Hundreds of area Somalis attended the trial to show their solidarity. When the verdict was handed down, they were outraged at the sentences.
In the sentencing hearing, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis “veered into territory not often heard during sentencings,” the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. He pointed at one of the women and said, “I have not heard her say she loves America.”
In the past year the same judge sent nine more Somalis to prison on frame-up charges. Much of the evidence in these cases came from informers working for the FBI or witnesses who faced similar charges and gave testimony in exchange for lesser sentences.
The Times reported that since the “siege in Nairobi, officials from the Department of Homeland Security, who set up community outreach programs with Somali-American communities after 2007, have increased their activities.” In several U.S. cities the FBI is reviewing what they call “high profile” cases.
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