Somali Muslim candidate denies accusations of bigamy
America’s soon-to-be first female Muslim legislator has a problem on her hands.
She’s accused of being married to two men, at the same time, including one who may be her brother. The second marriage was allegedly a sham, meant to deceive the U.S. government’s immigration system, allowing him to emigrate from the United Kingdom, according to local Minneapolis media.
But Ilhan Omar, a 33-year-old Somali refugee who was the victor in Minnesota’s Aug. 9 Democratic primary, denies the story, issuing a statement calling it “categorically false” and based on “absurd rumors that don’t bear repeating.” She charged those raising the issue are “racists” using “Donald Trump tactics” to drive a wedge between various demographic segments of Minnesota voters.
Omar defeated 44-year incumbent liberal Democrat Phyllis Khan. Since the district is made up primarily of an area of Minneapolis populated by immigrants and college students, Omar is considered a shoe-in in the November general election again her GOP opponent.
But local attorney Scott Johnson, an author of the well-read PowerLine blog, dropped a bombshell a few days after the primary with a story so shocking that the local media was forced to emerge from its euphoric coverage of Minnesota’s “first female Muslim refugee legislator” and acknowledge that this candidate has legitimate questions to answer.
So far she hasn’t answered many of them. Instead she issued an initial terse statement of categorical denial, then a second statement Wednesday that offered a few more details about her marriages.
Johnson found two marriage documents on file at the Hennepin County records office.
Ahmed Hirsi, the man she has publicly claimed as her husband, appears on Omar’s campaign website in a family portrait and lives at the same address as the candidate in southeast Minneapolis.
Johnson was tipped that Omar in 2009 married another man, Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, who Johnson maintains is Omar’s own brother. He further contends this marriage was arranged solely to help Elmi emigrate from the U.K. to the U.S.
Marriage records confirm that Omar filed for, but never used, a marriage license in 2002 to Ahmed A. Hirsi, the man she lives with.
A spokesman for Omar said those allegations are false.
Former Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is not convinced.
“Fraud, deceit, lies, corruption, cover-up, bigamy, immigration law violations, law breaking – all appear to be associated with the first Somali American winner of a Democratic primary in Minnesota,” Bachmann told WND. “The newly discovered documents and witness testimony cry out for an investigation.”
“If true,” she added, “the candidate should withdraw immediately from the general election this fall.”
But instead of dropping out, Omar responded by denying the charges, calling the blogger who reported them an “Islamophobe” and hiring a lawyer.
Brian Lambert summed up the fallout in an op-ed for the Minnesota Post.
“What followed for Omar was a five-day brush fire — aggravated by a roundelay of media spokespeople and the decision to hire an attorney, Ben Goldfarb, to add more indignation than facts to the questions Johnson raised. You want reporters to suspect you have something to hide? Hire a lawyer to not explain your marital status.”
The idea that anyone would dare ask questions about the moral integrity of the state’s first female Muslim legislator-to-be led the Minnesota Democratic-Farm-Labor Party to issue a threat against a TV reporter who picked up the story.
In a tweet by Conrad Zbikowski, president of the Minnesota Young DFL and a member of the State Executive Committee, the party threatened to deny interviewing access to local TV reporter Tom Lyden to all DFL-endorsed candidates if he did not apologize to Omar for his report.
Long history of fraud among Somali refugees
Lost in the story is the fact that Somali refugees have a long history of defrauding the U.S. immigration system with claims of family ties to people they are not actually related to.
Exactly eight years ago on Aug. 20, 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported findings of massive fraud had forced the U.S. State Department to halt all family reunification programs for African refugees because the Somalis in particular were found to be engaged in widespread fraud.
The State Department ran an extensive DNA testing operation and concluded that from 2003 to 2008 at least 80 percent of the 36,000 refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Liberia had gotten into the United States illegally by lying about blood relatives in America. The majority of the fraudulent refugees came from the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya, the same camp from which Omar and her family came to the U.S.
As a result of the 2008 DNA testing bombshell, the State Department temporarily halted the family reunification program but ended up restarting it in 2012 under President Obama with few reforms, says refugee watchdog Ann Corcoran.
“The VOLAGs [volunteer agencies that resettle refugees for the government] all got involved and said, ‘Oh, you can’t do that,’ and they tried to say the idea of family is different in Somalia than what we think of as family in the West,” Corcoran said.
In Minnesota in 2009 there was a tightly contested Senate race going on between then-U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and Al Franken.
“Coleman was knocking himself out trying to get the State Department to reopen the family reunification program because he and Franken were competing for the Somali vote,” Corcoran said.
“So Somalia is stained with a long history of immigration fraud where the U.S. State Department had to suspend family re-unification for four years because of the widespread fraud they found in the applications for family members,” Corcoran said. “We found out they weren’t really related at all.
“It was definitely Somalis that made up the bulk of the problem but they were careful not to pin it on any one group.”
There are no records on file that would indicate Omar’s 2009 marriage to Elmi was dissolved, but it was unclear whether a divorce granted in another state would be reflected in Hennepin County records, KARE TV, an NBC affiliate, reported. The Power Line blog reported that Elmi has since moved to the United Kingdom.
County records show a marriage license application filed by Omar and Ahmed Abdisalan Aden on Sept. 30, 2002. The couple requested a waiver to the five-day waiting period, which was the law at the time in Minnesota.
The waiver form included a handwritten notation, “We have been married by the Muslim Church on May 4, 2002 and have trouble getting housing, insurance and Etc.”
There is no marriage certificate on file matching that 2002 marriage license application. That suggests a civil marriage ceremony was never performed.
Updated Omar statement
On Thursday KARE reported Ilhan Omar issued an updated statement explaining the two marriage documents. She said Ahmed Hirsi and Ahmed Aden are one and the same person, and that his last name legally changed to Hirsi when he became a U.S. citizen.
She said she and Hirsi had been together since 2002 in a “cultural marriage,” and he is the father of her children. And, although they applied for a marriage license later that year, they never officially wed.
Omar said the two of them were separated in 2008 and divorced, again through their Shariah-compliant Muslim traditions.
In 2009 she began a relationship with British citizen Ahmed Elmi, Omar stated, and they were actually married. She said they parted ways in 2011 and were divorced according to their religious laws.
“I have yet to legally divorce Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, but am in the process of doing so. Insinuations that Ahmed Nur Said Elmi is my brother are absurd and offensive,” Omar wrote.
She said Elmi moved back to England.
“Since 2011, I am happy to say that I have reconciled with Ahmed Hirsi, we have married in our faith tradition and are raising our family together. Like all families, we have had our ups and downs but we are proud to have come through it together.”
Johnson, meanwhile, stands by his story.
“On Friday I received the campaign’s response to my inquiries from Minneapolis criminal defense attorney Jean Brandl. Brandl instructed me to communicate with her if I had further questions so that she could ‘document’ them. I think that was supposed to scare me.
“Yesterday I followed up with Brandl:
“Dear Ms. Brandl: I am confused by the limited information the campaign has released to KMSP 9 and the Star Tribune. I do have a few follow-up questions. I would appreciate your forwarding them to whoever is responding on behalf of Ilhan Omar.
“1. Is the Ahmed Aden named on the 2002 marriage license the Ahmed Hirsi whom Ms. Omar identifies as her husband and the father of her children on her campaign site? Did Ms. Omar marry Ahmed Aden? Did Ms. Omar live with Ahmed Aden? Who is Ahmed Aden and where is he now?
“2. Has Ms. Omar ever married Ahmed Hirsi, the man she identifies as her husband and the father of her children on her campaign site? Is Ahmed Hirsi another name for the man identified as Ahmed Aden on the 2002 marriage license?
“3. Does Ilhan Omar have a brother named Ahmed Nur Said Elmi?
“4. I understand that Ms. Omar acknowledges Ahmed Nur Said Elmi as her legal husband. Is that correct? Who is the man identified as Ahmed Nur Said Elmi on Ms. Omar’s 2009 marriage license and where is he now? Did Ms. Omar ever live with him? When and where did she live with him?
“5. Ms. Omar and Ahmed Hirsi appear to have lived as husband and wife for more than 10 years, since around 2002. Is that correct?”
Johnson said he received no response to his inquiries.
“In choosing to leave the story with unanswered questions that Omar could easily answer if she chose to, the Omar campaign has made a calculation,” he wrote. “They seem to have made the calculation that they cannot fill the gaping holes in Omar’s story without exposing Omar to some kind of legal jeopardy, but that they can bull their way through the election without more.”
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