MINNEAPOLIS—A Somali-American reporter covering the trial of three young men accused of trying to join ISIS said he was treated differently by courthouse security from other reporters.
Mukhtar Ibrahim, a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio, said he was temporarily denied entry on first day of the trial even though he had a press pass and other reporters were allowed in. Meanwhile, several other white reporters walked by without being stopped. Later last week, he was nearly thrown out of the courtroom by security guards.
Ibrahim said he came in to the courthouse around 8 a.m. May 9, waited a few minutes in the lobby, and then tried to go through security when he saw a reporter for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune walk through. "I followed him, he was in front of me," Ibrahim told me. "He put his bag through the screening area and he walked in without being asked any questions. I tried to do the same and this gentleman came up to me and he said, 'You cant go in yet, it's not open to the pubic.'"
Ibrahim showed the guard his press pass, but was still denied entry. After about 15 minutes, another guard told him he could go in. When he went through security, he found another of his colleagues at MPR waiting inside as well, already allowed to enter.
Then, on the afternoon of May 13, a disturbance happened in the courtroom when family members of a defendant and witness got into an argument. Ibrahim, who walked out of the courtroom to watch an argument, was briefly told he couldn't return, even as another reporter was allowed back in.
A guard "came to me and said you have to leave too," Ibrahim said. "I wasn't doing anything, just standing trying to take notes. I had my press pass on." Another security guard soon walked up and said "he's OK." Ibrahim was allowed to continue reporting.
Previously, he said, he's also been singled out by security for "extra screening" even after he passed through the courthouse metal detector.
It's not as if Ibrahim is an out-of-towner who jetted into town for a week (like me) to report on the trial. Ibrahim had been to the courthouse repeatedly for pretrial hearings. He has been one of the leading journalists covering the multi-year investigation of a Minneapolis circle of Somali-American friends who are accused of trying to join ISIS. And he was one of the few reporters covering the trial last week who actually spoke Somali.
The local chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists came out in support of Ibrahim on Monday, saying in a statement that they were "deeply troubled" by the problems he had faced with court security.
On Tuesday afternoon, Jonathan Kealing, the Minnesota SPJ president, said he had spoken with Sharon Lubinski, the U.S. Marshal for the district of Minnesota, and she said that maintaining access to reporters was important. (The U.S. Marshals are in charge of security for the federal courthouse.)
However, Chris Clifford, an assistant chief with the Minnesota U.S. Marshals office, told me Monday that Ibrahim’s account that he was treated differently from other reporters was “not true.” “He was told just to wait until the press was being seated and he didn’t want to wait… He wanted to get in before anyone else,” Clifford said.
Several other reporters who were with Ibrahim during the alleged two episodes have tweeted in support of his version of events:
Ibrahim said he was surprised to hear Clifford's statement. "Instead of just explaining and telling the truth, they are trying to deny the whole thing," he said. He said he had spoken to Lubinski, the head of the Marshals, to tell her what happened.
When news of his treatment was first reported, other journalists and locals voiced their support for Ibrahim:
“I’m not looking for special treatment, just treat me the same way you treat other reporters who don’t look like Somali,” Ibrahim told me. “I’m doing my job, which is to report what is going on.”
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.