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Somali community fears backlash after Ohio State attack

That was Hassan Omar’s message Tuesday about the attack Monday morning by Somali-born Abdul Razak Ali Artan at Ohio State University.

Omar is executive director of the Somali Community Association of Ohio. He and other central Ohio Somalis found themselves in the difficult position of trying to answer questions about a man with the same heritage who carried out the attack.

After local Somalis heard about it, some left work, Omar said. “People were scared.”

“The community is not responsible. Absolutely whatsoever, no way.”

Columbus has the nation’s second-largest Somali population, after the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Estimates range from 15,000 to 40,000. Some believe they’ll be harassed or targeted because of the actions of Artan, who drove a car into a crowd, then jumped out and slashed people with a knife. Eleven people were injured. An OSU police officer shot and killed Artan, an OSU logistics-management major.

“To be lumped in with an individual who did a horrible act, simply because he was born in the same country, they’re concerned about the backlash,” said Angie Plummer, executive director of Community Refugee and Immigration Services, which placed 266 Somalis here in the 12 months ending in September and 169 the year before.

Mohamed Warsame worries about backlash too, especially after some of President-elect Donald Trump’s remarks about Muslims during the heated campaign this year.

“Trump has an excuse to go after Somalis,” said Warsame, 47, an accountant who on Tuesday sat with two friends at the Hadhwanaag Cafe on Sullivant Avenue on the West Side, an area with a large concentration of residents of Somali heritage.

“Islamic society is always oppressed in this country,” he said. Warsame blames media coverage for misleading people that “Somali people are bad people.”

The Ohio State incident was closely followed in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. On Sept. 17, Dahir Adan, a 20-year-old of Somali descent, injured 10 people with a knife at a mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota, before an off-duty officer shot and killed him.

Abdirizak Bihi, director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center in Minneapolis, said the attack at Ohio State has made Minnesota’s Somali community even more edgy.

“It’s a common practice that the community feels like they are under siege,” Bihi said. “They feel frustrated because they have no control over individual acts.”

On Nov. 6, just before the election, Trump told a crowd in Minnesota that too many Somali immigrants were admitted without being vetted. “A Trump administration will not admit any refugees without the support of the local communities where they are being placed,” he said, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

At a news conference Tuesday at the Ibnu Taymiyah Masjid and Islamic Center on Mock Road on the Northeast Side, Columbus City Councilman Michael Stinziano said members of the local Muslim community have talked about the fear caused by “political rhetoric” during the election.

Since the election, Stinziano said, “there has been an uptick not only in Ohio but across the country of seeing people now taking that rhetoric a little more direct to individuals.”

But Jibril Mohamed, executive director of the Somali Community Action Network in Columbus and a lecturer in African-American and African Studies at Ohio State, said Trump didn’t mention Artan’s heritage at all on a Facebook post praising the university’s emergency management team and first responders.

“People know us as enterprising people, peaceful people, good neighbors,” Mohamed said.

Artan, 18, was a Somali refugee who left with his family in 2007. He lived in Pakistan, then came to the United States two years ago.

The Ibnu Taymiyah Masjid and Islamic Center has both education and sports programs to reach youth in the Muslim community, which can prevent self-radicalization and teach them to value the United States as their country, said mosque Director Ahmed Ahmed.

“We teach our youth one thing: to be a good citizen,” he said. “The safety of this country, the safety of this city, the safety of this state has to be your priority.”

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