A group of Somali Minnesotans gathered at the Mall of America Tuesday afternoon to show that they will not be intimidated by the terrorist group al-Shabab.
By going to the mall and having lunch there, the group of 10 Somalis and two others aimed to show people the mall is safe, said Abdirahman Mukhtar, a community engagement and young adults coordinator at the Brian Coyle Community Center in Minneapolis.
They also want to spread their message that a purported al-Shabab video that encouraged extremists to attack the mall and other shopping centers should not stop people from going about their daily affairs.
"People have to understand that no one will stop our daily lives and no one should tell us what we can do and cannot do here in Minnesota," said Mukhtar, who organized the gathering. "Mall of America is our pride in Minnesota. We brag about the Mall of America."
Jibril Afyare, a software engineer for IBM and president of the Somali Citizens League in Minneapolis, took off time from work to be at the mall.
"We are here to shop and we are not afraid of these lunatics," he said of al-Shabab. "They cannot drive a wedge between the Somali community who are peace-loving and civilized and our brothers and sisters of America."
Afyare, Mukhtar and Farhio Khalif, executive director of the nonprofit group Voice of East African Women, all had lunch at the mall in a show of support for its businesses. As local reporters interviewed the Somalis, other mall visitors told them they appreciated their presence at the mall.
"Thank you. You are showing a good message," Judy Stuthman, 74, of Roseville, who came to the mall to shop.
"Al-Shabab is probably having some difficulties recruiting and they saw this as a way," she said of the video released over the weekend that mentioned the mall as a potential terrorism target.
Stuthman said the Somalis at the mall are not "letting the radicals hijack the message of security in the community and security in [their] religion."
The mall is a popular destination for thousands of Somali families who bring their children and friends to the mall during the Eid holidays, Mukhtar said.
He got his first job at the mall in 1998 and worked at Knott's Camp Snoopy as a cashier on weekends before it became Nickelodeon Universe.
Since the al-Shabab threat became the subject of international news, Somalis in Minnesota have made it clear they denounce violent ideology. But some have expressed fears that they will face a backlash from others in the community.
Minnesotans should be cautious, said Khalif, of Voice of East African Women, but they should not "look at us differently because of our religion or because we are from Somalia."
Somali-Americans, she said, enjoy the mall as their neighbors do.
"Please go to Mall of America," Khalif said. "It's a fun place to take your children and eat a lot of great food."