Ifrah Farah, a Somali immigrant who now calls Garden City home, had trouble sleeping Friday night.
“Friday night, we didn’t sleep at all,” Farah said. “But yesterday, when we saw the police and we heard what they say, we were very happy.”
Farah was one of several Garden City residents holding signs expressing peace and love Sunday afternoon at an apartment complex on Mary Street that authorities say was the intended bombing target of three southwest Kansas men arrested Friday by federal agents.
Farah lives at the apartment complex, 312 W. Mary St., that is home to more than 100 others, mostly Somali Muslims. A one-bedroom apartment in the complex serves as a Muslim mosque.
Curtis Allen, 49, and Gavin Wright, 49, both of Liberal, and Patrick Eugene Stein, 47, of Wright, were charged Friday with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction for their alleged plan to detonate four car bombs at the complex. Authorities said Friday that the men were planning to carry out the attack on Nov. 9, the day after Election Day.
Federal prosecutors said the men were part of a small militia group called the Crusaders. The FBI had been conducting a domestic terrorism investigation of the Crusaders since February, a criminal complaint against the men states. The group, operating in southwest Kansas, espouses sovereign citizen, anti-government, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant beliefs, according to the complaint.
Farah said upon hearing the news Friday, she and many other Somalis actually contemplated moving away from Garden City, but changed their minds after being assured by law enforcement officials at a gathering held at the complex Saturday that they were safe.
Officials from the Garden City Police Department, the Finney County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI team that investigated the three men’s activities held the gathering.
Garden City Police Chief Michael Utz, through a Somali translator, repeatedly told those on hand that they were safe.
“The individuals involved in this plot are all in custody. There are no other threats that we are aware of. So we ask you to continue to practice being a Garden Citian, practice your religious beliefs. You are safe, and we will continue to make every effort to make sure you are safe,” Utz said.
Utz said he was asked by several Somali residents why they were the target of such violence.
“The only real answer I can give you is it was an attack against your religious beliefs,” he said, adding that he told them local law enforcement does not condone the men’s activities.
According to an affidavit, the three suspects met and communicated frequently to discuss a violent attack against Muslims in Garden City. Their rhetoric and speech revealed “a hatred for Muslims, Somalis and immigrants.”
FBI Assistant Special Agent Dave Varner explained that while the three men were members of a militia group, a right afforded by the constitution, they don’t represent the majority of citizens who belong to militia groups.
Varner said the three men chose “to target the Muslim faith,” but assured Somalis of their first amendment right to freely practice their religion.
Varner also assured the Somalis of their safety, telling them they could rest easy, but someone in the crowd asked how he could be certain.
“People who would have a mind to do this are very, very, very few and they tend to attract attention,” Varner said, adding that individuals who observed the activities of Allen, Wright and Stein reported it to law enforcement, and then encouraged others to do the same.
In a separate interview, Varner said the FBI did not want to make the arrests until there was sufficient evidence to charge all three men.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Nancy Csoka added, “We want to be sure when we do make arrests that we have a good case so that we don’t end up releasing people back out into the community that are a danger to the community.”
Steve Ensz, pastor of Garden Valley Church, and Cesar Avalos, an eight-year resident of Garden City, attended the event together Saturday and said they were both shocked and saddened by the news of the alleged plot.
Ensz said he attended Saturday’s gathering because he wanted to show Christ’s love to the Somalis and help restore relationships with them.
Avalos described the Somali people as friendly and kind, and encouraged people to get to know them.
Pastor Denise Pass, of the Presbyterian Church, expressed a similar goal when she shared the idea through Facebook Sunday to get as many people as possible to come out to the apartment complex to show their support for the Somali community.
“I kind of threw it out there to my clergy buddies and friends here in town and said, ‘We need to go do something. We need to be a human shield of peace and protection for our community,’” Pass said. “And folks from churches in Holcomb and from all over just started showing up.”
As people drove by Sunday, many honked their horns in support of the peaceful demonstration.
Pass, who was holding a sign that read, ‘We love our Muslim neighbors,’ said she wanted to show the Somalis that there is nothing to fear.
“We call God by different names, but we are all God’s people — God’s children — and I have nothing to fear, and they have nothing to fear from me,” Pass said.
Mary Lynn Buchele also stood in support of the Somali people Sunday.
“I felt an overwhelming need to show love for people who are part of my community,” Buchele said, which prompted 12-year-old Hamdi Saed, a resident of the apartment complex, to hug Buchele and say, “Awww, I don’t have enough water in my eyes.”
Hamdi, who came to Garden City from Somalia with her mother, Khadra Hrsi, three years ago, enthusiastically proclaimed Garden City as her home.
“There are too many people who make me feel like I’m home, and they don’t make me feel that I am different here but that I am equal to other people,” she said. ““I’m really, really, really happy to live in Garden City because it really feels like home.”