Uninvited guests drove from Columbus, Ohio
By LEO HOHMANN
Imagine going to the altar, say your vows, and just as you start to celebrate your big day, several members of a brutal street gang show up to your wedding party uninvited. Gunshots are fired, and fights break out.
That’s what police say happened recently in Concord, New Hampshire. When they responded they encountered rival Somali street gangs from another state, Ohio, resulting in sheer “chaos” that took two weeks to sort out.
Four Somali men from Ohio, Tennessee and Pennsylvania crashed a Somali wedding party on April 22 at the Bektash Temple. The invaders reportedly wore red bandanas associated with a criminal street gang known as the Bloods; they “yelled profanities and fired gunshots during a melee in the parking lot,” police told the Concord Monitor.
There were “rivaling” gangs who drove to the wedding party uninvited, police said, to confront another Somali clan with whom hostilities had been brewing.
There was some sort of “grudge” between the clans, the source of which has still not been identified, police said. But the mere presence of these rival gangs at the same wedding guaranteed a toxic atmosphere where violence was a fait accompli. Police said at least two of the men came armed with handguns and “looking for a fight.”
The 911 call was received at 1:20 a.m. on a Sunday. One witness reported hearing a gunshot and screaming. Many of the wedding guests fled into the woods. Some of the frightened guests did not emerge from the woods for hours, the last few waiting until dawn before they dared to come out.
A massive police presence from both local and state agencies responded to the 911 call, which led them to believe there may have been an active shooter situation. When officers arrived they encountered a wedding party of more than 300 people and numerous fights in progress, Concord Police Lt. Sean Ford, who was among the first responders, told the Monitor.
Witnesses identified Salim Hussein as one of the main culprits. He was seen shooting a pistol from a white Chrysler 200, which was rushing out of the parking lot when it was broad-sided by another vehicle, police told the Manchester Union-Leader.
Hussein, 22, of Nashville, Tennessee, was one of four suspects arraigned April 23 in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord. Hussein and Jafar Kahalid Issak, 19, of Columbus, Ohio, each face one count of felony rioting and reckless conduct with a firearm.
Also arrested were Abdi Osman Mohamed, 18, of Erie, Penn., and Ali Dahir Hussein, 20, of Columbus, Ohio.
Columbus is home to the nation’s second-largest enclave of Somali refugees, after Minneapolis, Minnesota. The refugees are resettled there and in more than 200 other U.S. cities by the United Nations in cooperation with the U.S. State Department and Catholic Charities.
“We knew people had fled into the woods and we were concerned for a while that we may have somebody injured out in the woods,” Ford said. “We had people coming out of the woodline for several hours after this thing, even at the break of dawn.”
“There were multiple factions that were fighting amongst each other,” Ford told the Union-Leader, and apparently none of them were invited guests. “It seemed like an ongoing thing that’s been brewing over social media and possibly at some other events and celebrations.”
Judge Robert McNamara set bail at $10,000 cash for each of the two men facing the most serious charges –Hussein and Issak. The other two were freed within days of posting a bail set at just $750.
Prosecutors said Hussein drove from Tennessee and picked up Issak and three others along the way.
All four traveled together to the wedding, prepared and armed for a confrontation, said Assistant County Attorney Jacki Smith.
“The state’s understanding is that they were aware that a fight would ensue at this event,” Smith told the Union-Leader.
Ford said police were looking into gang ties to the suspects.
Police recovered two .38 caliber shell casings at the scene and one unspent .38 caliber bullet. Detectives also reviewed at least one cellphone video taken during the brawl.
According to arrest-warrant affidavits, the four knew there was potential for tensions at the wedding, which they weren’t invited to, with rival groups that were also at the venue.
“There may have been other uninvited guests, too,” Ford said. “There was a lot of people who were not supposed to be there and tensions were brewing all night long.”
Guests told police a fight broke out behind the building between people from Ohio, Tennessee and other partygoers.
“Some of them were rival factions … younger people, teens, early 20s, from different parts of the country,” Ford said. “We had people from Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia, New York, and they apparently had some kind of beefs with each other, some of it over social media.”
Police said there were reports of at least one gunshot fired near several people, including children.
More than two weeks after the Somali wedding at the Bektash Temple in Concord, police said they don’t have an exact explanation for what happened. They are working with their counterparts in Columbus to try to unravel what happened, according to the Union-Leader.
Concord police told the paper that cooperation “has not been the best” among many of the Somali wedding guests, who seem to be protecting the rival Somali clans.
“All we can say right now there was a grudge between factions in this group,” said Lt. Ford. “These guys are definitely part of street gangs (in Columbus),” he said.
Reasons for rise of Somali street gangs
Police in Columbus said several factors have come into play in the rise of Somali-dominated street gangs:
- Somalis don’t forget tribal animosities just because they move to the United States, and at one point Columbus tracked 10 to 15 clans with histories of grudges and shifting alliances, said Khaled Bahgat, the New American diversity/inclusion officer for Columbus police. He added that those animosities seemed to have calmed in recent years.
- Refugee families settle in inner-city communities, where youths find role models among street criminals. Recently, some Somalians have been robbing Columbus pharmacies and engaging in drug trafficking, Bahgat said. “Some, unfortunately, follow the path of whatever environment they’re in. Once they take that road, they become very bold. They feel like nobody can touch them,” he said.
- When younger family members succumb to the lure of street crime, their strict, fundamentalist parents and older relatives shun them, which pushes them further toward delinquency, Bahgat said.