Fargo Muslims condemn ‘evil’ gunman, refuse to help bury him

21 July 2023

FARGO In a show of solidarity with the Fargo Police Department, a group of about 10 Muslim refugees and immigrant leaders placed flowers at the memorial for slain officer Jake Wallin on 25th Street South this week.

Along with bringing Somali food to Fargo police headquarters on Thursday, July 20, the gestures were to show respect for law enforcement, but also to condemn the attack by gunman Mohamad Barakat who killed Wallin, seriously wounded two other officers and injured a bystander.

The Forum spoke with more than a dozen members of the local Muslim community who all said they did not know 37-year-old Barakat.

Despite his first name, which is common among Muslims, area leaders in the Islamic faith rejected any affiliation with Barakat, who they said did not attend the Fargo mosque or the one in Moorhead.

In fact, a family member’s request made to local mosque leaders to handle Barakat’s funeral arrangements has been refused, said Sajit Ghauri, an adviser to the Moorhead mosque, known as the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Center.

“We have no clue whether he was even Muslim because his action doesn’t show that. So with that being said … we refused to do a funeral or burial in this area,” Ghauri said. “Even if he’s a member, he can’t mess with our community like that.”

On July 14, Barakat armed himself with a homemade grenade, gasoline, explosives, a .223 caliber long rifle, 1,800 rounds of ammunition, four other handguns and additional rifles, tactical vests and double stacked large capacity magazines, North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley said during a press conference on Wednesday, July 19.

Stopping short of calling the shooting an act of terrorism, Wrigley did say that Fargo Police Officer Zachary Robinson was the “last man standing for what was coming next and what this assailant was armed for.”

Mayor Tim Mahoney agreed with Wrigley during the press conference saying Barakat’s attack was not finished.

“It is clear to us our officers were ambushed in this attack. Had Zach not neutralized the shooter we would have many more casualties. He was planning on war and mayhem in our community,” Mahoney said.

Ahmed Makaran, executive director of ESHARA, or the Ethnic Self Help Alliance for Refugee Assistance, came to the makeshift memorial for Wallin on Tuesday. Makaran has been meeting with city leaders and the Fargo Police Department to offer help in any way he can, he said.

No one in the local Muslim community knew Barakat, or had even heard his name, Makaran said.

“We have a lot of Mohamads and Ahmeds here, but we have not even seen his picture. And that is an unknown fear. People see the name and think it is like every other Muslim. But with good communication we can make this unknown fear go away,” Makaran said.

Other Muslim leaders said connecting Barakat’s name to the religion of Islam makes as much sense as linking the name John to Christianity.

Ghauri said he talked to about 50 Muslim people in the area and so far has not found anyone who knew Barakat.

“You cannot attach this to any religion. That person has what looks like a Muslim name, but his actions were not Muslim,” Ghauri said.

At the memorial on Tuesday, Ghauri made a statement on behalf of the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Center, saying that his nephew, Jonathon Larson, from Minnesota, served with Wallin in Afghanistan.

“Islam is a peaceful religion that condemns the use of violence against innocents, including police officers, firefighters and other first responders performing their duties. Further, it is the civic and religious duty of Muslims to cooperate with law enforcement and protect the lives of all civilians,” Ghauri said.

Cani Adan of the Afro American Development Association and Fowzia Adde, executive director of the Immigrant Development Center in Moorhead, said they’re also searching for information on who Barakat was and how he came to the Fargo area.

Adan and Adde condemned the violent act, which also injured officers Andrew Dotas, Tyler Hawes and bystander Karlee Koswick. Officer Zachary Robinson shot and killed Barakat at the scene.

After the shooting, The Forum spoke with neighbors of Barakat at two apartment complexes where he used to live, and all said they did not know him.

“Within us there is one bad apple. We have to throw away the bad apple, but don’t destroy everyone else,” said Adde, who is a Muslim originally from Somalia.

“This is not good for the Muslim community. It is a sad time in our community because we’ve been trying to work hard to fit in, you know, to melt in the pot. We have been working so hard to prove to the community that we are ordinary people,” she added.

Adde said the Muslim community is “thankful for the Fargo police as they’ve been changing for the better.”

“They’re trying to reform, trying to hire minorities. I am not against them,” Adde said.

Adde and others are concerned about how the wider Fargo-Moorhead community will react to Friday’s violence.

Already, a newly-placed poster found Monday along 10th Street South advertised the Patriot Front, saying “Reclaim America.”

High up on a wall behind the stage in Broadway Square a similar message was also spray painted.

The Patriot Front is a white nationalist hate group that formed after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights nonprofit that tracks hate groups.

In 2022, there were at least three instances of vandalism with the words Patriot Front on businesses and tunnels in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Terry Hogan, director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the city of Fargo, condemned all forms of hate while he, too, visited the memorial for Wallin on Tuesday.

“Hate is not warranted here in the city of Fargo. We have good law-abiding citizens and they should not be subjected to this stuff,” Hogan said of the Patriot Front signs.

Ghauri and Adde both questioned whether Barakat was mentally stable.

“I’m not making excuses for this evil person, but at the same time the refugee community goes through a lot of trauma, particularly those who have gone through war. When we arrive we don’t get the proper mental care. And that’s something that needs to be evaluated. When a refugee arrives they go through a health screen. I wish the same health screen would include a mental health screen, too,” Adde said.

Makaran said the only answer now is for the community to come together to help each other heal.

“If one member of our community gets sick, it affects all of us. This person damaged us, but we can come together to help the family who was hurt,” Makaran said.

“The question we should be asking is what can we do for the family now? This is what we should think, all of us: Take care of the family, that is our goal,” Ghauri said.


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