?Lewiston woman discovers her ex-husband joined ISIS and was killed in Syria;

? She’s angry that some are blaming her, labeling her and her children terrorists

“Amaani” describes it as feeling like she can’t swallow, as sudden and horrifying as a tornado, like a psychological bruise. And so unexpected.

Growing up, Abdifatah Ahmed had been the brother of her childhood best friend. He was kind, fun. They married in 2010. He eventually moved into her Bartlett Street apartment in Lewiston, then bounced between Minnesota and Maine. It took two years before the marriage imploded.

He wanted a second wife. She didn’t.

A week after their divorce last fall, she would later find out, he left the country.

Ahmed traveled to Syria and joined ISIS, the radical Islamic group that has beheaded three Western journalists, carried out other public executions and killed thousands in taking over large areas of Iraq. According to news reports, Ahmed died fighting there last month with another Minnesota man.

Amaani said the FBI has visited her three times.


She said she’s as confused as anyone about her ex-husband’s actions.

The vitriol started on social media immediately: She was to blame, driving him to leave the country to join the Islamic State, known as ISIS. He was going to heaven; she was going to hell.

Or, if they abhorred what Ahmed had done, they called Amaani and her children terrorists, too.

Amaani wanted to tell her story and come to her own defense. The Sun Journal isn’t using her real name for her safety and the safety of her children.

What she had to say offers a rare glimpse behind headlines last month in Minneapolis newspapers that show a grinning man raising a rifle above stories reporting his death that say only that he had nine children, had difficulty supporting them and walked away. The stories tell little about how a once-moderate Muslim man who lived in Lewiston became radicalized to the point of losing his life in Syria.

For Amaani, it was the second devastating loss at the hands of Islamic extremists. They killed Amaani’s father in Ethiopia when she was 10, gunning him down when they targeted his Christian driver.


“I lose two people in my life for that agenda? Should I lose myself as well?” she said. “Things happen and they will move forward. You can’t just sit and cry.”

A man ‘any woman would like’ 

Amaani was born in Somalia and grew up in Ethiopia in a middle-class family. Her mother died when she was 4. Her father, a community leader, worked for an agricultural nonprofit. He was attacked and killed by the radical Islamist militant group Al-Itihaad in 1994.

“It was awful,” she said. “I was getting water. My grandmother said, ‘Your father passed away, did you know that?'”

And that’s how she found out.

“I didn’t start crying for seven days,” Amaani said. “They were just killing the good leaders who were Somalis. They’re killing their people, they’re disabling the government.”


For a long time, she said, she bristled when anyone told her that all Muslims are extremists. She felt it was her job to set them straight.

“No, these are not Muslims, they’re monsters,” Amaani said. “Until I grow up in my late 20s, I understand I don’t have to explain myself to anybody.”

An older sister in America pushed for her to head to the United States after high school graduation for more opportunity. She arrived in Atlanta in 2004. Immediately, her new home was too busy and congested. By the next summer, after visiting a friend here, she moved to Lewiston.

“It has a more similar atmosphere from where we came from,” Amaani said. “It’s more family-oriented compared to Atlanta.”

She enrolled in classes to improve her English, eventually found work and started college. 

In 2009, in her mid-20s, Amaani lost her job. She was bored. She had friends in Minnesota, home to a large Somali community. Young and single, a change of scenery sounded nice.


She moved, and that’s when she met Ahmed.

He was born in Somalia and moved to the U.S. at age 8, raised in Minnesota by an uncle. Ahmed worked at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He had recently divorced, he said.

Ahmed told her he had two ex-wives and five children.

“They were difficult women, at least that’s what I see at first,” Amaani said. “While I was dating him, he was a calm person. He didn’t like parties. His lifestyle was one of those lifestyles any woman would like.”

At dinner one night, he told her, “You know (Amaani), I don’t like dating. Let’s get married. If you want to get to know me, you can get to know me while we’re engaged.”

“I told my family and everybody voted no,” she said.


They got married anyway in 2010. She was 25, he was 28. Their first child came in the next year. Ahmed followed her back to Lewiston in 2011.

He had dropped out of high school years before. Amaani encouraged him to get his GED. According to her, Ahmed enrolled in a local adult education program but didn’t stick with it.

“He was lacking motivation. It’s hard to change people,” she said. “He would say, ‘I like business.’ OK, do business.”

She said he would tell her, “I don’t like this city. I’m waiting until you finish school to go back to Minnesota.”

Amaani had also encouraged him to become a U.S. citizen, which he pursued, taking the oath in a South Portland ceremony in May 2012 and getting his passport soon after that, she said.

Ahmed, she said, slowly grew more controlling.


“(I’d tell him), ‘Nevermind how I dress, how I talk, who I talk (to),'” Amaani said. “I became the job. He tried to put me in this little box and I couldn’t handle it.

“Every time he would get upset, he would dial my sister. Even at midnight, he would tell her our problems, ‘This is what she’s doing, she’s so Americanized.’ Finally, he went back to Minnesota.”

Amaani said she tried to make it work. She suggested he visit family in Africa in the fall of 2011. He came back happier but insistent: The marriage needed another wife.

“I don’t want to be a second wife to anybody,” she said. “My brain said no, no, no.”

The relationship limped along. He’d push for a second wife. She’d refuse. Fires that ravaged parts of downtown Lewiston one year ago served as a sort of catalyst, she said. Their apartment burned and they lost everything. Ahmed was in Minnesota at the time. He didn’t call to check on the family for two days.

As she scooped up their toddler and baby and ran from the fire, Amaani said the thought occurred to her, if she had more than two young children, she would have been forced to choose whom to carry out and whom to leave behind.


“That fire tell me, somehow, leave this life behind,” she said.

Amaani finally told Ahmed last summer, “Marry whomever you want. I’m just going to let go with you.”

The divorce was final in November.

Last December, she received a call from London. He was on vacation, he told her, visiting family.

Later that month, Ahmed sent a text to his sister: “Tell the girls that I went to Syria.”

‘Poker face’


Ahmed gave an interview to Minnesota Public Radio in January via Facebook, using his Facebook handle Abdirahmaan Muhumed.

“I give up this worldly life for Allah,” he wrote to them.

Amaani found out he died when a friend sent her a link late last month to a Fox News report with scant details on his death. Amaani read the MPR interview for the first time this week.

She’s still in shock.

“You always think you have control in your life until you have no control,” she said. “None of it. The ‘why’ is just killing me. Why do the radicals keep showing up in my life?”

Amaani said the FBI visited her new apartment three times this year, once after Ahmed’s death.


FBI Minneapolis spokesman Kyle Loven, citing the ongoing investigation, said he couldn’t confirm any visits to Lewiston or talk about ISIS recruitment efforts in the states or any deaths in Syria.

The FBI is aware of “young Somalis who have been living in Minnesota who have traveled abroad to engage in fighting overseas,” Loven said. “Travelers from Minnesota to Syria, we’ve characterized as a handful. Travelers from Minnesota to Somalia, we have put the number out there from between 20 and 25 persons.”

Lewiston police Chief Michael Bussiere this week declined to comment on knowledge of any recruitment efforts in this area or whether the FBI had been in touch with the department.

Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau said it would be naive to believe that world events wouldn’t sometimes connect back to the U.S. and to Lewiston.

“We became part of the global discussion when the first (Somali) families started arriving here,” he said. “I don’t think it’s indicative of a pattern and I don’t think it’s indicative of anything that would be a hotbed of activity. … We haven’t seen anything that suggests for a moment that that’s going on.”

People have moved back and forth for years between the two communities in Minnesota and Maine, he said.


Nadeau said he hadn’t heard of Amaani’s story. “She obviously has established a life here that she wants to preserve,” he said, “like we all would want to preserve a life that we have.”

Ahmed was identified in Minneapolis media reports on Aug. 28 that said the State Department had been in contact with his family to alert them of his death, and on Aug. 29 that family had been shown photos of someone who appeared to be Ahmed with “a gaping wound to the side of his head.”

Ahmed, Amaani said, had been discouraged and angry at life in America but had never struck her as someone who would become a radical. He prayed and went to mosque regularly and never talked about hurting anyone.

“There are people you can tell they’re going to be religious obsessive — he wasn’t that,” she said. “I’m as confused as everybody else. I just don’t know how his kids would understand his motivation in life. How can you leave all your kids behind and make believe you’re going to go to heaven?”

She said she’s not aware of when he was approached or how he was recruited by ISIS.

“To be honest with you, there’s a lot I didn’t know (about) this guy; I’m realizing this,” Amaani said. “I was living a life that was completely delusional.


“This is the most awful thing anybody can experience,” she said. “Psychologically, it bruises me. I have to put this poker face on in my community, even though I’m angry. It’s like the most difficult thing that I cannot handle.”

She’s been told on Facebook, mostly by people in Minneapolis, that she’s to blame: If she had let him have another wife, Ahmed wouldn’t have left.

“I wasn’t willing to share my husband with nobody, under no circumstances,” she said. “I hate when people blame me. How could you blame somebody?”

Comments under the online news stories have been predictably acidic, including: “Now we as US Taxpayers can support his 4 wifes (sic) and 9 Kids.”

That rankles Amaani as well. She has a good job. She said she receives no state aid.

She doesn’t like seeing her faith attacked, either.


“Islam is a peaceful religion,” Amaani said. “I want America to understand, all the women that guy married, they’re the victims. These kids that they’re calling little terrorists, they’re the victims.”

Amaani said she hopes his death is used as a reason to reach out to young people, hammer home that it’s not noble to kill, that there’s hope and help when you don’t have a job or a support system.

“They can tell their kids, ‘ISIS is not part of the Muslim world. ISIS is part of the crazy world,'” she said.

In his case, she doesn’t blame anyone but Ahmed for what happened.

“Everybody is accountable for their actions,” Amaani said. “I don’t know the root. I don’t know how he break all that oaths (of U.S. citizenship) and pretend it doesn’t exist.

“I have to raise kids by myself with this background that he left. What I’m hoping is to just be me.”


Managing Editor Judy Meyer contributed to this report.

Interviews with Abdifatah Ahmed

In June, Minnesota Public Radio broadcast a report titled “Jihad in Syria lures Somalis from Minnesota,” which included several brief Facebook interviews with Abdifatah Ahmed, who was known as Abdirahmaan Muhumed when living in Minnesota. He was reportedly killed in Syria in late August. 

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