Super Bowl stokes hopes, concerns of Minneapolis' Somali community

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - The largest Somali community in the United States is centered just blocks from the site of this year's Super Bowl, but that is too close for comfort for some of the mostly Muslim residents of the "Little Mogadishu" neighborhood in Minneapolis.

Some Somali residents worry about being a target of the heightened security that always surrounds one of the biggest sports events - but especially this year, when fear and suspicions about Muslims and immigrants in general are running high.

SEE ALSO: Super Bowl LII: Twitter map shows nearly every state is rooting for Eagles over Patriots

With thousands of visitors expected ahead of the National Football League's championship game on Feb. 4, Somali residents say they are concerned about the potential for harassment or random violence directed at members of the Somali community, long vilified as a hotbed of extremism.

"The Super Bowl is great, but there is an anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim mood in this country. A lot of people are coming," said Abdirizak Bihi, director of Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center.

21 PHOTOS
Somali community in Minneapolis prepares for Super Bowl
See Gallery
Somali community in Minneapolis prepares for Super Bowl
Abdullahi Furah, Mohamed Furah and Abdirahman Mukhtar (L-R) watch the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship football game at the Capitol Cafe, a popular Somali coffee shop, ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 21, 2018. Picture taken January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Abdullahi Furah, Mohamed Furah and Abdirahman Mukhtar (L-R), all of Minneapolis, watch the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship football game at the Capitol Cafe, a popular Somali coffee shop, ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 21, 2018. Picture taken January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Jamal Said (L) of St. Louis Park and Abdul Hersi of Minneapolis, watch the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship football game at the Capitol Cafe, a popular Somali coffee shop, ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 21, 2018. Picture taken January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Jamal Said (C) of St. Louis Park raises his arms as he cheers for the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game at the Capitol Cafe, a popular Somali coffee shop, ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Barbers Jama Laabane (L) and Happy Khalif keep the television tuned to sports as they work in their shop in the Karmel Square Somali Mall ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Barbers Jama Laabane (L) and Happy Khalif keep the television tuned to sports as they work in their shop in the Karmel Square Somali Mall ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Farhio Khalif (R), an advocate for East African and Muslim women, looks at some clothes at her aunt Luls' shop in Karmel Square Somali Mall ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Farhio Khalif, an advocate for East African and Muslim women, talks with a reporter at Karmel Square Somali Mall ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Mahad Omar, Director of Aflah Tutoring of Minneapolis talks with a reporter ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Mohamud Noor, Executive Director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota talks with a reporter in his office ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Mohamud Noor, Executive Director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota talks with a reporter in his office ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Jaylani Hussein, Executive Director of the Minneapolis Chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations of Minneapolis, talks with a friend during a youth retreat ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
A group of young, avid football fans watch highlights of the Minnesota Vikings' postseason victory over the New Orleans Saints, at a popular Somali market, before the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Jaylani Hussein, Executive Director of the Minneapolis Chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations of Minneapolis talks with friends during a youth retreat ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Abdirizak Bihi, Director of Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center, jokes that his neighborhood is the only place with a mosque next door to a bar, ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Abdirizak Bihi, Director of Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center, talks about his neighborhood, one of the largest concentrations of Somali immigrants in the country, ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
With U.S. Bank Stadium -- site of the upcoming Super Bowl LII -- in the background, Abdirizak Bihi, director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center, talks about his neighborhood, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Mohamed Omar, executive director of Dar-Al Farooq Islamic Center, whose center was bombed last summer in Bloomington, Minnesota, talks about the lack of progress in the investigation, ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
Mohamed Omar, executive director of Dar-Al Farooq Islamic Center, whose center was bombed last summer in Bloomington, Minnesota, talks about the lack of progress in the investigation, ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
The Cedar-Riverside neighborhood is home to a large Somali population and is near US Bank Stadium, the site of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Despite apprehensions, many are also eager to dispel negative views and show football fans that the community is hard-working and friendly - no different from many other ethnic communities in the United States.

The heart of the community is located within sight of U.S. Bank Stadium in the neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside, where coffee houses, Somali shops and a mosque dot the streets, and women covered with hijabs are a frequent sight.

The greater Minneapolis area is home to about 50,000 people with Somali heritage, those born in the United States as well as immigrants and refugees from the East African country.

Somalia and its capital, Mogadishu, have endured decades of political instability and more recently militant attacks from Al-Shabaab. The country has also been targeted by Trump's travel ban, which blocks entry into the United States of most people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

More than 20 Somali-Americans have left Minnesota to join extremist groups overseas, such as ISIS and Al-Shabaab, but local leaders say this is a small number that defames a friendly and hard-working people.

"Our community has been labeled as a national security threat. We live in constant apprehension," said Kamal Hassan, who founded Somali Human Rights coalition in Minneapolis after fleeing his homeland. "Every day you hear social media threats against our community."

17 PHOTOS
Minneapolis prepares to host Super Bowl LII
See Gallery
Minneapolis prepares to host Super Bowl LII
Jan 31, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; General overall view of NFL official Wilson football at U.S. Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 31, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; General overall view of U.S. Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 2: Workers move Patriot and NFL props before a rehearsal at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN during the lead-up to Super Bowl LII, where the New England Patriots will face the Philadelphia Eagles, on Feb. 2, 2018. (Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JANUARY 30: A General View inside of US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on January 30, 2018, at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JANUARY 30: A General View inside of US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on January 30, 2018, at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JANUARY 30: A General View inside of US Bank Stadium prior to Super Bowl LII on January 30, 2018, at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN - JANUARY 30: George Toma NFL Groundskeeper tends Super Bowl for 52nd consecutive year is interviewed inside of US Bank Stadium on January 30, 2018, at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
U.S. Bank Stadium, venue of this year's Super Bowl, as seen from a Department of Homeland Security Blackhawk helicopter that will be patrolling the skies during the game in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 29, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A Viking ship sits in front of US Bank Stadium, home to this weekend's Super Bowl, in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A journalist walks down the steps inside US Bank Stadium during a media preview for this weekend's Super Bowl in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Men looking at their phones stand beneath the transparent roof of US Bank Stadium during a media preview for this weekend's Super Bowl in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A worker inside US Bank Stadium prepares seats for this weekend's Super Bowl in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
DOWNTOWN MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - DECEMBER 27, 2017: DigitalGlobe satellite image downtown Minneapolis and U.S. Bank Stadium - home to Super Bowl LII. (Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 29: General view of the U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings and Super Bowl LII on December 29, 2017 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
The Cedar-Riverside neighborhood is home to a large Somali population and is near US Bank Stadium, the site of the NFL's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Craig Lassig
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 29: General view of the U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings and Super Bowl LII on December 29, 2017 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

SECURITY TIGHT

Growing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, fueled by President Donald Trump's statements before and "America First" rhetoric, has exacerbated anxieties about public attitudes and police surveillance and immigration enforcement, according to community leaders.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has denied that the Somali community was under any special scrutiny for the Super Bowl. It never investigates people or groups based solely on ethnicity, race or national origin, said Jeffrey Van Nest, media coordinator for the FBI in Minneapolis.

But with the big game approaching, community leaders have stepped up efforts to dispel the negative perceptions and fears, going on radio shows and holding meetings with police in an effort to build relations and prevent trouble.

Such concerns are not entirely unfounded.

More than a year after young Somali men from Minneapolis were put on trial for trying to join the Islamic State in 2016, a bomb was thrown though the window of the Dar Al Farooq mosque last summer.

"We are vulnerable. We are a few steps away from the stadium," said Mohamed Omar, executive director of the mosque. "It's very scary now, the climate we live in."

About 60 public agencies, including the FBI and Minneapolis police, are taking part in security operations for the Super Bowl, which officials term as a "Tier 1" event.

The planning began two years ago and authorities plan to exhibit a massive show of force to deter and protect against any would-be attackers, including thousands of uniformed police and bomb-sniffing dogs.

Behind the scenes, authorities will deploy undercover officers, the latest technology and military-style intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to counter any threat.

Many local Somali residents will be driving taxis during Super Bowl week, as well as working as security guards at the stadium and serving traditional food at local cafes nearby.

Located just across an interstate highway from the game, Super Bowl visitors could easily stroll through Little Mogadishu or wander into one of the city's Somali malls, lined with stalls selling colorful African dresses and meat-filled pastries.

"They will see a different community than (the) one portrayed in the news," said Jibril Afyare, president of the Twin Cities Somali American Citizens League.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning in Minneapolis and Daniel Trotta in New York; editing by G Crosse)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.