LEWISTON — Iman Osman, 27, of Lewiston woke Sunday morning to a phone message with bad news.

His brother was killed the night before when a powerful truck bomb exploded in a populated part of Mogadishu, Somalia. The terrorist group al-Shabab is being blamed.

“I was shaking. I didn’t know what to say,” Osman said Monday. “I sat on my bed with tears in my eyes. ‘How did that happen?’ ”

Like he often did, he called his brother. There was no answer.

His brother, Iman Abdalla, estimated to be in his 40s, was a husband, a father of eight with a ninth child on the way. He worked as a first responder driving an ambulance.

Osman said he talked, texted or video-chatted with his brother almost daily. “He was a nice guy. He was friendly. He used to talk to my 2-year-old son.”


Osman has several brothers in Somalia, Abdalla was the go-to person for family news, Osman said.

Rilwan Osman, a cousin, said hearing about the bombing “is tough. It’s the worst bombing they’ve ever seen. The numbers are going up every hour.”

The death toll had risen above 300 on Monday.

On Saturday night, Iman Osman said, his brother had collected his pay and was walking back from the Safari Hotel, a big building close to where the explosion occurred.

“A big truck drove past him. The truck exploded out of nowhere,” he said. “The explosion was big.”

His brother was about 1,000 feet away from where the truck exploded. He was struck in the neck. The impact killed him. Another person walking beside him lost limbs.


Abdalla was bleeding in the street, both hands in his pockets. His cellphone was vibrating. A stranger nearby heard the phone, reached into his pocket and answered, Iman Osman said.

“He said, ‘Who you calling? This person is lying here. He’s dead,’ ” Osman said. “That’s how the message came to us.”

In the tradition of their Muslim faith, family members were able to bury him within 24 hours. Compared to some, the family was lucky in that his body was intact; other victims aren’t able to be identified, Osman said.

Iman Osman, who lives and works in Lewiston as an interpreter, fled Somalia when he was 3 years old. He lived in refugee camps in Kenya before immigrating to the United States.

His brother also fled to Kenya, but last year returned to Somalia hoping things would get better after a new government and President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed came to power.

“People were so hungry to go back to a place where they were born and live in a peaceful way,” Rilwan Osman said. That the bombing happened in the capital city, “this is not something we were expecting.”


Lewiston Somali residents are sad, anxious, asking how can they help, Rilwan Osman said. “People are praying, hoping that something like this never happens again.”

Catherine Besteman, a Colby College professor who lived and studied in Somalia in 1988, knew Iman Abdalla as a boy. She and her husband, Jorge, lived next to his family. The boy was her husband’s constant companion, Besteman said in an email on Monday.

The two gardened together, walked the farmlands, baked biscuits. Iman helped Jorge speak Somali. The boy was “super smart, totally engaging,” Besteman said. “He had a loving family, many of whom now live in Lewiston, including Iman Osman and Iman’s mom, Asha.”

People like him who returned to Somalia represent the country’s best hope, she said. They are people who are working to make a life while trying to avoid violence “like the bomb that took his life,” Besteman said. “What happened is a horrific tragedy.”

The terrorist group wants people to suffer, they don’t want a government, Iman Osman said. “They think they can brainwash people to join them, that either you’re one of al-Shabab or you’re against them. People are losing their lives.”

He’s worried about his brother’s children and widow. “She doesn’t know how to survive,” he said. “It’s painful.”

He’s frustrated that after decades of violence, “Somalia isn’t safe,” Osman said. “The world is not paying attention to how many lives are lost, how many are suffering.”

Bonnie Washuk can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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