Nashville is an exemplar of the 'global interior' - the phenomenon of refugee immigration to cities in the U.S. heartland - in a recent Carnegie Reporter article entitled "New Immigrants in New Places." Tennessee's capitol has been called a "blue city in a red state." Between 1990 and 1999 the foreign born population grew by over 203% from less than 13,000 to more than 40,000 out of the consolidated
Nashville-Davidson population of over 607,000. Foreign born residents in Nashville now account for one in seven residents.
The growth in Nashville's immigrant population was a product of a Clinton Administration initiative in the 1990's by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to vector refugees away from the traditional gateway cities to the nation's interior. It was also part of a conscious plan by Nashville and Tennessee business leaders led by former Mayor now Governor Phil Bredersen to attract new industries to the region. Employers like Nissan, the Saturn division of GM, Dell Computers, Hospital Corporation of America and the Opryland resort and hotel complex created over 260,000 new jobs in the Metro region in the decade of the 1990's.
Unemployment remains dramatically low in the Nashville metro area. Many immigrants filled low end manual jobs. However, about one fifth of these immigrants still live below the national poverty levels.
Nashville is ranked 1st among major American cities in terms of the per capita proportion of foreign born residents.
In Nashville, the influx of immigrants brought Kurds from Iraq, Iranians, Iraqi Christians and Muslims, Egyptians, Ethiopians, South Sudanese Christians, and Somalis. There are also significant Mexican, Lao, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Korean, and other South East Asian communities. The Nashville based Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition led the charge for securing state legislation providing driver license tests in multiple languages and, later, driving certificates for undocumented immigrants.
All is not sweetness and light in Nashville - the home of the Opryland and Rhinestone cowboys - between the Muslim and general communities. Among the Nashville Muslim immigrant community there is evidence of infiltration by Islamist elements and leaders, including an active Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) chapter. In sharp contrast, the local Kurdish community of over 9,000, the Sudanese Christian one that numbers 8,000, and large Iraqi and Iranian émigré communities are overwhelming committed to core American values.
In late February, 2007 , a Somali Muslim immigrant cabdriver ran down two fares - a Vanderbilt college student and his visitor from Ohio- after a heated argument about Hitler and the Holocaust.
In June, 2005 , the Somali Muslim émigré community via CAIR demanded and got an audience with Mayor Bill Purcell, Metro Police, and 30 other agency heads after an alleged desecration of a Quran.
In March, 2005 , 30 Somali Muslim workers demanded prayer time while on the job at Dell facilities in the Capitol city. They were let go only to be reinstated after CAIR and the Metro Human Relations Commission intervened.
Nashville now boasts six Mosques for the growing Muslim community. Last year when the Danish Cartoons controversy erupted around the world , a special forum was convened in Nashville to discuss it. The gathering included revered former editor and publisher of the Nashville Tennessean, John Siegenthaler, representatives of the ACLU and was moderated by the Dean of the VanderbiltDivinitySchool. The panel included a leader in the local Muslim community, Dr. Awad Benhazim. Dr. Binhazim is a member of the board of the Islamic Center of Nashville.
The Imam of the Islamic Center of Nashville is Abdulhakim Ali Mohamed. Binhazin was reported to have said at the meeting that "We are blessed to have someone of his caliber." Ali Mohamed has a bachelor's degree in Sharia (Islamic law) from the Islamic University of Medina and, before coming to Nashville in 1998, he was Imam at the notorious al-Qaeda connected al-Farouq Masjid mosque in Brooklyn.
Another Imam in Nashville at the Al-Farooq Mosque, Abdishakur Ibrahim, was at the center of several controversies including the alleged Quran desecration, the Dell prayer time kerfuffle, and shutdown of a Halal food supermarket owned by him because the USDA found suspicious financial activities.
Abdishakur Ibrahim left Nashville under mysterious circumstances via Canada to Kenya in early July 2005. The timing and circumstances of his sudden departure became subject to counter terrorism inquiries.
The Somali Muslim immigrant community has been manipulated by the Islamists in Nashville. This has led to a serious matter of possible fraud in an important federal grant from the Office of Minority Health (OMH) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for alleviation of mental health problems including abuse and violence against women. A recent U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) grant to aid African Refugee Victims of Crime may also be at risk. This alleged fraud was perpetrated by the head of the Somali Community Center of Nashville (SCCN) Abdirizak Musse Hassan. Hassan was convicted in a plea bargain in Federal court in 2006 of a misdemeanor for 'false statements' in a five year long probe of the Somali dominated Al-Barakaat Hawala Islamic money transfer network by the U.S. Treasury - IRS and the Counter Terrorism Task Force of the FBI.
The Al-Barakaat money transfer investigations were prompted by allegations that funds repatriated to Somalia by the system - some $40 million annually- were diverted to al Qaeda. Hassan's indictment was one of four brought by federal prosecutors in the U.S. The Al-Barakaat money transfer system was closed.
Amazingly Hassan throughout this federal investigation, while under indictment, became the Executive Director of the SCCN and the grants director on numerous federal grants from the ORR, OMH and DOJ.
There is documented evidence that Hassan failed to implement the original purposes of the OMH grant - mental health outreach and alleviation of women's abuse and violence including genital mutilation practices in the Nashville Somali community. He diverted the funds to employ the Imam of the Al-Farooq Mosque, Abdishakur Ibrahim and replaced Abdishakur Ibrahim (following his mysterious departure) with the Treasurer of the Al Farooq Mosque, Salaad Nur.
There were reports that the Al-Farooq Mosque engaged in support of Islamist proselytizing. Competent Somali women were shunted aside from participating in the OMH mental health and violence prevention grant program. This program was originally designed to support both African and Middle Eastern origin Muslim, primarily women, in Nashville. There is some alleged evidence that Somali children have actually been taken on 'vacations' to Africa where female genital mutilation procedures were performed.
This alleged fraud was facilitated in part by federal HHS OMH bureaucratic bungling.
The original OMH grant was filed in June of 2004 by a collaborative partnership in the immigrant community composed of Kurds, Somalis, and Iraqis. The award was made in October of that year. However, in February of 2005, the OMH notified the grantees that Kurds and Iraqis were not 'eligible' for services because they did not meet the definitions of 'minorities' under Federal regulations. Minorities under the Federal code that applies to the OMH program include those of "African descent, Asian, Hispanics, Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders." In effect those of Middle Eastern origin were excluded from both the grant program services and the original sponsoring partnership collaborative. That left the Muslim Somalis who were encouraged to find a new grant partner. One Sudanese Christian outreach specialist was added to the grant in April 2005 and was allocated approximately 10% of the grant budget.
Shortly after receipt of the OMH letter in February 2005, the original grant partners, excepting the Somalis, went to Nashville Democratic Congressman, Jim Cooper to lodge an inquiry into 'unfair discrimination.' Cooper's staff exchanged correspondence with the OMH in Rockville, Maryland, only to be told that the Kurdish and Iraqi collaborative partners 'didn't qualify.'
When evidence of the fraudulent diversion of OMH mental health grant funds by Hassan was presented to the Inspector General's office of HHS it was deemed not a priority in light of the IG's overwhelming caseload of Medicare and Medicaid fraud. In effect the $450,000 OMH grant to the SCCN was considered the equivalent of 'small potatoes.' The evidence was then taken to the Metro Nashville Police Counter Terrorism Division. The latter suggested the evidence be reviewed by the Joint Task Force on Terrorism of the Immigration Custom Enforcement (ICE) office of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). A Joint Task Force specialist on Somali Community matters was assigned by the DHS Joint Task Force to investigate. The matter was then transferred to an FBI Special Agent engaged in white collar crime and grant fraud. After a 10 month effort going through channels at local, state and federal levels the comment from an FBI special agent was 'to destroy the evidence' because 'there wasn't much of a case.' All this despite evidence that the OMH grant was not implemented as intended. Instead the funds were being used for unlawful purposes including religious indoctrination and possible support of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.
The other OMH grant partners - the Kurds, Iraqis and Sudanese - were fearful that if the fraud disclosures were unveiled there would be a backlash from the general community who may become 'outraged' by this unlawful diversion of significant federal support for integration of the new immigrants in Nashville.
The sad part about this is that such a scandal could easily be duplicated in other major cities in the so-called "Global Interior" like Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis even Memphis in Tennessee. All because local and federal counter-terrorism cadres are both feckless and intimidated by the guidelines from superiors in their law enforcement and homeland security agencies to be 'sensitive' to Muslim advocacy groups complaints of possible religious profiling. It is also possible that the SCCN and OMH grant program director Hassan, may have cut a deal with the federal prosecutors for a lesser misdemeanor plea bargain, as opposed to a multi count felony, in hopes that the Federal authorities might use him as a hook into "bigger fish up the food chain." Hassan's alleged fraud and violation of other federal laws may be viewed by federal counter terrorism specialists as a small price to pay in the quest for information on the al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas cells in America.
After all the federal prosecutors sealed the records in the Hassan Al-Barakaat matter.
Abdirizak Hassan, the SNCC executive director, is currently serving a federal probation sentence. He continues to direct and manage large federal grants. Salaad Nur, the Treasurer of the Al-Farooq Mosque, continues to be the mental health and domestic violence outreach specialist paid out of the OMH federal grant. SCCN is now the dominant refugee-led service agency left in Nashville. Other African and Middle Eastern refugee service agencies were either downsized or closed due to the lack of government support and funding. So why are federal authorities turning a blind eye to apparent fraud and the diversion of funds by leaders in the Nashville Somali refugee community with suspected terrorist connections? Stay tuned for further developments in this story. It has legs.
Mr. Gordon is a Member of the Board of American Congress for Truth and Ms. Andersen is an independent counter-terrorism analyst