Somali imam fights back on religious holiday

Attorney Mahir Sherif defends the imam who was prevented from flying to Mecca last month

An attorney for the Somali imam who was prevented from leaving the country for a holy pilgrimage to Mecca last weekend spoke out at a press conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center Monday, defending the mosque that the imam leads.

Mahir Sharif, a lawyer from San Diego, said that it appears that the FBI put the imam, Shiekh Abdirahman Shiekh Omar, on the no-fly list because of rumors circulating about the Abubakar As-saddique Islamic Center. Another young man, a youth worker affiliated with the mosque, was also prevented from flying to Saudi Arabia. He is a U.S. citizen and a respected youth leader.

"It appears to be that the FBI took the ball based on the rumors, and ran with it. In other words, put people on no-fly [first], and is actually now engaged in the hard detective work of having to talk to people," said Sharif.

Several young Somali men have disappeared from the community recently, and their families have told the Star Tribune that they believe the men may be fighting in Somalia. There are rumors that one Somali, Shirwa Ahmed, died as a suicide bomber. Some in the Somali community have said that the disappeared young men went to the mosque. The imam's attorney adamantly refuted Monday that the mosque had anything to do with the disappearances.  

"Suicide and other acts of terrorism are forbidden by the Islamic faith," said Sherif. "The [mosque] does not engage in any political activity. It has not, and will not, recruit for any political cause. There has never been, nor will there ever be, any support for terrorists, their radical philosophy, or their acts by the [mosque]."

Monday's press conference came after about 10,000 Somali muslims gathered inside the convention center for the morning prayer to celebrate Eid-al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice following the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The religious holiday is one of the most important of the faith.

Sherif said it was likely that all the men who have disappeared, who he said number about 12, at one time went to Abubakar mosque. "It would appear from the facts that every single young man in Minnesota has attended the center. It is the only center that has the space to accomodate these youth," Sherif said. "However, that does not say that the center is somehow recruiting or indoctrinating or financing any of this stuff."