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Father of Pro-Islamic State Teen seeks Answers for missing son: FBI believes Zacharia Yusuf joined Islamic State

Abdurahman blames Somali education centers, which he said do not protect children from radical religious thought

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Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, right, does volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity in northern Minneapolis as a teenager. VOA

It was midmorning Nov. 9, 2014, when two FBI agents visited the Minneapolis home of Yusuf Aden Abdurahman. They asked if he knew the whereabouts of his son, Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, 20.

“To our knowledge, he is in town, in college,” the elder Abdurahman told them.

The agents informed him that the FBI had stopped his son at JFK airport in New York as he prepared to board a flight to Athens via Moscow. He hadn’t been arrested, the agents said, but the FBI had reason to believe Zacharia had planned to make his way to Syria to join Islamic State.

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Abdurahman and his wife looked at each other. “I felt the sky has fallen on us,” he said.

Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, 20, shown in a 2015 photo from the Sherburne County, Minnesota, Sheriff’s Office, is among seven Minnesota men of Somali descent that have been charged with attempting to join the Islamic State group. VOA
Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, 20, shown in a 2015 photo from the Sherburne County, Minnesota, Sheriff’s Office, is among seven Minnesota men of Somali descent that have been charged with attempting to join the Islamic State group. VOA

That was nothing compared to the feeling five months later, when Zacharia was arrested, this time for co-planning a scheme to obtain false passports, travel from Minnesota to Mexico, and fly overseas to hook up with IS, an organization the U.S. government has designated as a foreign terrorist group.

In September 2015, Zacharia pleaded guilty to conspiring to travel to Syria in an effort to provide material support to IS. He is one of six who pleaded guilty to the same charge; they await sentencing in November. Each could get up to 15 years in jail.

Seeking answers

Zacharia’s attempt to join IS has led his father to question how his son could have been radicalized into an Islamist militant. It’s a problem that has plagued Minnesota’s Somali-American community for a decade since the Somali insurgent group al-Shabab began recruiting in the state.

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Zacharia did not seem a likely recruit for such groups. He was born in Minneapolis in 1995, part of the first generation of Somali-Americans to be U.S. citizens from birth.

Abdurahman says he was close to his son, played games with him, took him to movies. He says he and his wife loved Zacharia and pushed him to succeed. “We came to live in a country different in culture to ours, so we ran and worked hard to get him into education,” Abdurahman said.

The work seemed to be paying off. After nine years of public school, Zacharia attended a local Somali charter high school and graduated in 2013. After a year off, he enrolled at Minneapolis Community and Technical College with the goal of becoming a software engineer. He also got a job at Hennepin County Hospital.

But IS sympathizers got their hooks in him anyway, his father said. Abdurahman blames Somali education centers, which he said do not protect children from radical religious thought.

Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman at his graduation from the Heritage Academy of Science and Technology, a school of mostly Somali-American students, in Minneapolis in 2014. VOA
Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman at his graduation from the Heritage Academy of Science and Technology, a school of mostly Somali-American students, in Minneapolis in 2014. VOA

“When something happens among these students it stays among them, there is no one from a different culture who says. ‘No, I don’t see it that way, this is the correct way … what you are involved in is not religious, don’t do crazy,'” he said.

Deqa Hussein, whose son also pleaded guilty to the same charges as Zacharia, agrees.

“I took him to Quran school when he was 16 years old. At 18 years old, the FBI contacted me and said your son is palling around, walking with, dining with a group of people whom we are suspicious of,” she said.

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Hussein adds that she is not saying the teachers or imams recruited her son for Islamic State. But they didn’t safeguard him either.

“There are people who live with us in this country, who look like us, who have the same religion as us, but differ in interpretations,” she said. “The people who recruited my son have used Quran school and mosques as a cover.”

Hiding responsibility

Sheikh Ahmed Tajir, the imam of Ummatul Islam Center, says the criticism is not justified.

“Somali-chartered schools … and Quran schools play an important role,” he said. “The management are Somalis, the children meet their cousins and uncles in these schools, and they protect our good culture.”

He defends mosques, as well.

Map. VOA
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. VOA

“The mosques deserve honor and respect,” he said. “They are doing the work of religious ministries. They deserve blessing, they produce hundreds of Quran memorizing students, and they bring back hundreds from falling off the train.”

But Abdirizaka Bihi, a Minneapolis community leader, says mosques should not be in denial. Bihi’s nephew Burhan Hassan traveled to Somalia in 2008 to join al-Shabab and died there.

“Most of the young people who traveled to join ISIS or al-Shabab, [it’s] known which mosques they used to go to and the messages they used to hear. We should not hide from it,” Bihi said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

“A young man who was born here, who goes to cinemas in the Mall of America or a university is not just going to wake up one morning, go to Google and then say I’m looking for al-Shabab and ISIS, or I want to find out somewhere I can blow myself up. There are people who mentor and prepare them,” Bihi said.

Abdurahman says he is very pleased that his son was arrested before he traveled to Syria. He now regularly visits his son in prison. He says Zacharia regrets what he has done.

“He has missed playing with kids, school, friends and the family, and above all, his actions interrupted his plans to marry,” he said. “A girl was ready to marry him, but now who is going to wait for a loser?” (VOA)

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President of Egypt Calls for Collective Action Against Countries Supporting Terrorism

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The president of Egypt Urges world leaders to take decisive action against states supporting terrorism. Pixabay

Egypt’s president Wednesday called for “decisive” and “collective” action against countries supporting “terrorism” in an apparent reference to Turkey and Qatar, who back the Muslim Brotherhood group, which is outlawed in Egypt.

The three countries also support opposing factions in the war-torn Libya.

Addressing a two-day forum on peace in Africa in the southern city of Aswan, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi also said achieving sustainable development in Africa is needed, along with efforts to fight militant groups in Egypt and the Sahel region that stretches across Africa south of the Sahara Desert.

“There should be a decisive response to countries supporting terrorism and a collective response against terrorism, because the terrorist groups will only have the ability to fight if they are provided with financial, military and moral support,” he said.

Abdel Fattah Al Sisi Egypt
The President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly. VOA

The gathering in Aswan is attended by the leaders of Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Senegal along with officials from the U.S., Britain and Canada.

The Sahel region is home to al-Qaida and Islamic State group-linked militants. El-Sissi said Egypt could help train forces and provide weapons to countries in the region to fight extremists.

Egypt has for years been battling an Islamic State-led insurgency that intensified after the military overthrew an elected but divisive Muslim Brotherhood President Muhammad Morsi in 2013 amid mass protests against his brief rule.

Militant-related violence in Egypt has been centered on the Sinai Peninsula, as well as in the country’s vast Western Desert, which has witnessed deadly attacks blamed on militants infiltrating from neighboring Libya.

Since Morsi’s ouster, tensions have grown between Egypt and Turkey and Egypt and Qatar. The political party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Cairo designated as at terrorist group in 2013.

Upcoming conference

El-Sissi also said a “comprehensive, political solution would be achieved in the coming months” for the conflict in Libya, which descended into chaos after the 2011 civil war that ousted and killed long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi. He did not elaborate.

Egypt
This photo provided by the office of Egypt’s president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, dignitaries including Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, center, gather, for a photo during a two-day forum on peace in Africa in the southern city of Aswan, Egypt. VOA

He said that would put an end to a “terrorist hotbed that pushes militants and weapons to (Libya’s) neighboring countries including Egypt.”

El-Sissi apparently was referring to an international summit in Berlin that aims to reach an agreement on actions needed to end the conflict. The conference had been scheduled for October, but it has apparently been postponed.

After the 2011 civil war, Libya split in two, with a weak U.N.-supported administration in Tripoli overseeing the country’s west and a rival government in the east aligned with the Libyan National Army led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter.

Maritime border agreement 

El-Sissi’s comments came amid heightened tensions with Turkey after a controversial maritime border agreement it signed last month with Libya’s Tripoli-based government.

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Greece, Egypt and Cyprus, which lie between the two geographically, have denounced the deal as being contrary to international law, and Greece expelled the Libyan ambassador last week over the issue.

Hifter has for months been fighting an array of militias allied with the Tripoli authorities to wrestle control of the capital.  He is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia, while the Tripoli-based government receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy. (VOA)