As part of MPR News series “Civil War Kids: Young Somalis in Minnesota,” MPR’s Laura Yuen reports on how after escaping war, some Somali young men in Minnesota fall prey to gangs, guns and religious radicalization.
Tens of thousands of Somalis escaped a brutal civil war, and now call Minnesota home. “Civil War Kids: Young Somalis in Minnesota” presents the stories of young Somalis confronting violence in their community, and struggling with the psychological scars that the bloodshed in their homeland left behind.
Report is first in a three-part series.
Click links below for other parts of series:
2010 NBNA Eric Sevareid Award, first place in Series - Large Market Radio category
2011 Society of Professional Journalists New American Award
(00:00:00) The first stop for many new Somali refugees is here in the city of Riverside Neighborhood of Minneapolis. You can buy phone cards. You can send money to Mogadishu. You can even buy a hookah and you can do all of this on the same block. I see middle-aged women walking from store to store their cell phones are tucked under their head scarves across the street from me are public high-rise Towers in worn-out collars their home to thousands of somalis who have restarted their lives here with
(00:00:27) nothing. but among those newcomers are some disaffected young men who are causing the most harm to their own people what many see as a crisis has a big cost
(00:00:39) on a recent
(00:00:40) afternoon a group of mourners is shoveling heaps of dirt onto three caskets men at this grave site chanting in Arabic there is no God but
(00:00:48) Allah This is exactly how somalis bury their dead
(00:00:53) and Mogadishu one of the most violent places in the world, but this cemetery is in a suburb of Minneapolis and the dead men in the caskets all thought they escaped the Bloodshed when they settled in the United States two of the men were from Somalia and the third was from Ethiopia all three men were around 30 and were shot to death at the Seward market and Halal Meat shop in Minneapolis Rama waterfall lost both her brother and cousin in one night. Right.
(00:01:20) I don't know what's going on with the community. It said that we left the Civil War to look for a peaceful country and then we come to a peaceful country and still kill ourselves
(00:01:30) prosecutors. Say to Somali boys. Both 17 killed the three men during a botched robbery. It's not clear if either teen was involved with gangs, but the shootings are part of a grim cycle of violence within the somali-american community murshid borrowed is a first cousin of two of the victims by root says he wasn't surprised that the We're so young. He says a lot of Somali American boys are growing up poor and fatherless in the inner city, and they're turning to the streets for their role models. All of that combined. I think they are becoming a lot more dangerous than anyone ever expected them to be these troubled young men are in their teens or 20s. They were essentially born into a civil war. They've heard the stories from their parents of somalia's beautiful beaches, but in their lifetime, they've only known their Homeland as a failed state. Carmel Plaza in Minneapolis is one of the Somali malls were many young men flock a lanky young man settles into a booth and one of the restaurants 31 year-old. Abdelkader Sharif looks like he's been swallowed by his puffy hooded jacket. He ordered spaghetti and a picture of pink fruit juice a surprising pick from someone who says he was once a gang boss Sharif Scrolls through his call log on his
(00:02:43) smartphone. How is it that you have a Blackberry? I thought you didn't know how to read this is. It besides being a businessman Sharif is
(00:02:52) also a civil war kid. He came to the US and the mid-90s when he was 17 illiterates in both English and Somali his parents were still in Africa. So sharif's only Guardian at the time was an older sister. She couldn't get him in line. He drank smoked pots and dropped out of school shrieve jokes that if you were still in Somalia, he would have grown up to become a warlord. But as a young Refugee navigating Minneapolis, he says he sold drugs and helped create. Of the first Somali gangs in the Twin Cities a Telltale scar on shareef's neck reminds him why he quits running the streets in 2007 a man from a rival gang stabbed him in the throat the knife wound permanently damaged reefs vocal chords while Sharif was laid up in the hospital and a mom who prayed with him took Sharif under his wing that's when Sheree vowed to join the mosque and get to
(00:03:43) work. I'm trying to jinx another life
(00:03:45) shrieve takes pride in his job at the mosque where he works as part youth counselor part. Announcer he even bought a metal security badge that he keeps in his wallet.
(00:03:53) See that's what I can
(00:03:55) while Sharif has become a symbol of personal redemption in the community. He knows his future is limited. Sharif is a convicted felon who has served time in prison for stealing a car. So he's eligible for deportation. But the US government rarely sends criminals back to Somalia because the country has no functioning government. So young offenders like Sharif who come here legally lose their immigration status and are in limbo. It makes it difficult to find work.
(00:04:22) I'm trying to get to my papers treat. I don't have a no idea. I need to get an ID. I need to get a green card. I need to get a work permit.
(00:04:30) Sharif says he steered young men off the streets and that he's paid for his crimes many times over Sharif says a lot of his old friends with lengthy rap sheets are living dead end
(00:04:41) lives at Outreach meetings with Somali residents. It's officer.
(00:04:46) Janine Brew danelle's job to listen. And I'll has the peaceful posture of a yoga instructor, which is her side job. Her full-time job is the Somali Community liaison. It's a unique position that Minneapolis Police created in response to the escalating violence Breeden L is also the Department's resident expert on Somali gangs butanol says, there are just seven documented smaller gangs in the area with names like Somali Mafia and the Somali Outlaws the makeup just a small fraction of known gangs in Minnesota and their actions. Have mostly been contained overall. If you look at the majority of crime that occurs.
(00:05:25) It's Smalley on
(00:05:27) Somali. She says Somali gang members have been successful in intimidating older somalis because they know they have the upper hand. She says immigrant Merchants may be less likely to report robberies or coercion to police. They may not speak English. They may not fully understand the criminal justice system or have a fear of government and law enforcement. They've brought with them. Minneapolis Somali gangs started in the late 90s the hot boys one of the first began as a singing group Brunel says they built a reputation in the community and then committed crimes to back it up. She says it's almost as if they bought into their own hype over time the gangs grew more emboldened and now the second generation of Somali gangs has become more violent than ever Brunel says Somali gangs are more fluid than traditional gangs. They have no hierarchy or formal recruitments. Many members don't even consider themselves a gang. They think of themselves as clicks for organizations to Britain L. There is no doubt that these groups are gangs. There are plenty of clicks the Girl Scouts the Boy Scouts, but when you have a group of people together and they choose to commit crimes that is when they become a gang
(00:06:40) it's the semifinals for a young men's basketball tournament at the Midtown YWCA in Minneapolis a crowd of spectators. Taters fills the metal bleachers teams that go by the names Somali tigers or simply Minneapolis are
(00:06:56) vying to advance to the
(00:06:57) finals. The stakes are high even for this community League when a ref calls a foul some of the players lose their tempers gonna have a fight guys youth worker Abdullahi Farah in his black leather jacket is watching from the sidelines. Farah is a volunteer. He was trying to keep some of these young men out of trouble he says while Things can get heated. This is a better place for them to work out their frustrations said of talking about, you know, I'm going to shoot this guy. I'm going to beat up this guy. They have like saying, you know what? Hey, let's take it to the court over the summer Farah's group the Somali youth Network Council hired young men from the neighborhood to talk one-on-one with at-risk youth at the time. There was a turf war between some of the city's Somali neighborhoods. Farah says the feuds often began with what he calls a beef, but they could escalate over Facebook and Messages into a war with guns and deadly consequences the rash of murders started about two years ago. Seven Somali American men were killed in less than a year and the gang violence began to claim lives of people with no gang ties at all in Augsburg College student who was working as a youth Mentor was shot to death police believe the gunman was a 16 year old boy who was upset because the mentor told him he couldn't play basketball many of the homicides were acts of Retribution for previous. Beings and most remain unsolved Abdullahi Farah has seen kids go down the wrong path. He says boys who begin to pull away from sports or other activities should be a warning sign to parents age 12 that usually activate 1314. This is one day finding friends and stuff like that. Ron age 15-16. They should be finding their hobby or something that you know, their friends and getting into but when they hit like 18, either they continued their Hobby and they take that positive direction. Or they just kind of lose that happy real quick. You know, that's when the alarm should be going on one law enforcement official with
(00:08:57) experience fighting Urban gangs is now tackling a gang of a different breed. My name is Ralph Bolter.
(00:09:03) I'm the special agent in charge of the Minneapolis division of the
(00:09:06) FBI over a long career with the FBI Walter wants after violent gangs and organized crime in big cities a picture in his office chose him as a Young Street agent escorting a man in handcuffs that man belongs. To a ruthless gang of armored car robbers in Boston now boulter has a new opponents. Al-shabaab is a militant Islamic group fighting to overthrow the Somali government the group's recruitment of young Somali Americans from Minnesota was something bolt or never saw before court documents. Say it all started in 2007 when young men from the Twin Cities began holding secret meetings to discuss the Ethiopian military occupation of their Homeland the US backed invasion of Somalia Jew outrage from somalis around the world eventually up to 20 Twin Cities men brimming with testosterone and religious fervor. Allegedly enlisted with Al shabaab. It means the youth in Arabic the group has carried out suicide bombings and mortar attacks in the name of Islam Walters says his agency needs to win the trust of young Somali Americans to fight domestic radicalization. His agency has taken the unusual step of meeting face-to-face with young people. They've told Bolter about what it's like to live in poverty or to face discrimination from police or to feel alienated from their own parents in these are factors that create
(00:10:29) fertile ground for dissatisfaction frustration. And I think those feelings those emotions feed ones vulnerability to being influenced to do something that perhaps you and I would not
(00:10:41) do no one is suggesting that Minneapolis gangs are a pipeline to Al shabaab the reasons why a young man would enlist a neither a gang or a terrorist Are complex but in many cases the root of their decisions is similar the most disaffected young men are trying to connect with something one of those young men trying to connect was a Korea maroof maroof was lured by both Somali gangs in Minneapolis and by al-shabaab in Somalia and he met a tragic fate in his homeland by all accounts marouf was a magnetic figure in every Social Circle. He passed through he was the well-known one. Who was the one that girls liked he was The famous one was the loud one. The one that people listen to that's 24 year old zuhr Ahmed. She's the only woman in the Twin Cities to host a Somali news show
(00:11:29) Somali Community Link airs every Monday night on the radio station KFA I a couple of years ago. I met
(00:11:39) invited Zakaria marouf to be a guest on our show about why young Somali men were killing each other in Minneapolis marouf was a former gang member who turned religious several years ago. Friends say he struggled because of his criminal history maroof eventually found work as a Walmart stock boy on a recent evening. Ahmad went back to listen to a recording of the old show Maroons comments reveal a young man's disillusionment with life in his adopted country and the interview roof told her why he decided to leave the hot boys. Milan Bono giant took the man and my dad Minnesota one day. I was at Cedar here in Minnesota see And it was me and a bunch of other Youth and older Somali men came to us. He came by and he stopped and he told us are you always going to be living this life. We left at the old man, but when I rethought about what he said, it left a mark maroof appeared on the radio show in October 2007 little did Ahmed know that's about the same time a roof was allegedly plotting with other young men to join Al shabab a few months later. He left for Somalia. Friends heard marouf was killed last summer in the fighting five other al-shabaab recruits from Minnesota are also believed dead including one who became a suicide bomber zuhr Ahmed says, it's Eerie listening to Zachary. Mm roofs voice. God knows how I feel about it. It's just scary now to know that he died and you know joined these crazy group that are blowing themselves up on the show. I'm a tasks marouf why the youth are joining street gangs maroof places most of the blame on his Parents generation and Community leaders, he refers to a coffee shop on Riverside Avenue where Somali cab drivers in Elders get into heated discussions about the Affairs of the Homeland Community how it you guys. Could you then welcome to the kid is not probably Community are busy with themselves. The father's go to Starbucks. Yeah, they chatting. They're chatting talking about we are planning a clan be the reason why we here and flee somehow. Ali is because of Clan and be I am not a clan AMV, why can they not be busy with us and talk about us and help us maroof said the parents have become helpless. They don't speak the language and they don't know what's going on with their kids when zuhr Ahmed listens to maroof. She says she hears a sense of disappointment that she didn't notice at the time of the interview. I'm Ed believes. There's a connective thread between the reasons why a young man might join a gang and why he might enlist with a terrorist group. New feel like your neglected by your own parents by your own people by your own Community leaders by her own father. Then you are vulnerable to anything. I don't even think they would need drugs or or anything to really lead them to join jail shabaab or gang groups because at least they have a group that's calling for them. At least they have sons of belongings at least they have a place where they are the center of attention. I'm it says young people just want to be noticed. But they weren't noticed here Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio News, Minneapolis.