3/1/2021
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Fact check: Ilhan Omar was not arrested 23 times, and other inaccuracies in meme targeting congresswoman


Saturday February 20, 2021

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) speaks to the media at the U.S. Capitol, as Democrats debate one article of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump, in Washington, U.S. January 13, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) speaks to the media at the U.S. Capitol, as Democrats debate one article of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump, in Washington, U.S. January 13, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis


A meme circulating on social media makes a series of misleading claims about Somali-born Ilhan Omar, who serves as a Representative for Minnesota in the U.S. House of Representatives, including the false claim that she has been “arrested 23 times”. This article will argue that these allegations presented in the meme are false. Opinions presented in the meme are out of scope of this article.

The meme has been circulating since at least July 21, 2019, based on the earliest iteration Reuters could find in public Facebook groups and pages ( here , here  ), and continued to circulate in February 2021 ( here ). “From Jail Cell to Congress” the meme says and continues: “Arrested 23 times? Daughter of Somali Terrorist. Committed marriage and immigration fraud. ISIS and Al Queda (sic) sympathizer. Making a mockery of the US Government.”

The meme features two images of Omar: a mugshot and a photograph of Omar taking the oath of office on Jan. 3, 2017. The latter is by AP photographer Jim Mone and can be seen here: bit.ly/3arWcmt .

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Jeremy Slevin, a spokesman for Omar contacted by Reuters via email, called the allegations presented in this meme “false”.

ARREST

A Minneapolis police report accessed by Snopes ( here ),  Omar was arrested once on January 19, 2013 for two charges of misdemeanors: “Trespassing and Refusing to Leave a Hotel Upon Lawful Demand” and was booked at the Hennepin County Jail to “prevent further Criminal Conduct.” Reuters submitted a request but has yet to receive access to the police report.

As reported by Minnesota newspaper the Star Tribune ( here ), Omar had refused to leave a hotel lobby following the visit of Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. The Star Tribune reported that  “the charges were later dropped.” A USA Today report of the visit can be seen  here  .

Slevin confirmed to Reuters that the mug shot featured in the meme (which can also be seen  here  ), is authentic and stems from this 2013 arrest.

TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS

Reuters found no evidence to support the claim that Omar has been arrested 23 times. She does hold 23 traffic case records that can be searched and found here (by selecting Criminal/Traffic/Petty Case Records, searching by defendant Ilhan Abdullahi Omar and date of birth 10/04/1982). They date from February 2012 to January 2019, but none led to an arrest (see a screenshot of the records uploaded by Reuters  ibb.co/cL500hk ).

They include violations like “parking overtime in a meter zone,” “parking in a no park zone” and “Failure to Display Current Registration - Expired Plates.”  As explained here by the Minnesota House Research Department, petty misdemeanors do not carry a jail sentence, but entail a fine of up to $300. “A person cited only for a petty misdemeanor traffic violation is not subject to custodial arrest.”

Slevin also confirmed to Reuters that none of Omar’s traffic violations led to an arrest.

MARRIAGE AND IMMIGRATION

In a previous article ( here ), Reuters addressed allegations, made without evidence, that Omar married her brother to help him gain American citizenship. In 2016, Omar issued a statement in which she clarified the timeline of her marital history and called the rumors “baseless”, “false and ridiculous.” ( here )

As reported by Business Insider  here   , there is no hard evidence that Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, who she legally married in 2009 based on her statement, ( here ) is her brother or that Omar committed fraud.

Business Insider highlighted “some puzzling discrepancies and inconsistencies in her marriage history.”

For example, in June 2019, Minnesota’s CFB found that Omar filed “tax returns stating she was married to one man [Ahmed Hirsi] when, in fact, she was married to another [Ahmed Elmi],” according to CBS Local Minnesota, “amid an investigation into allegations of misuse of campaign funds.” ( here )

Allegations about Omar’s marriage history have also been addressed by the New York Times here and the Associated Press here .

PARENTS

Reuters found no evidence that Omar parents were associated to a terrorist organization. Slevin also confirmed to Reuters they are not “Somali terrorists.”

She is the daughter of Fadhuma Abukar Haji Hussein, who, the New York Times said (  here and  here  ), died when Omar was 2, and her father was Nur Omar Mohamed, who passed away on June 16, 2020 due to complications from COVID-19 ( here ).

Her family story can be seen on her websites  ilhanomar.com/about/   and  omar.house.gov/about   .

The New York Times reported here and the Washington post here , Omar’s father, who was a teacher in Somalia, “picked up work driving taxis and later got a job at the post office.”

Politifact previously debunked the meme here   and found the allegations about her parents to be false: “We could not find any evidence that either of Omar’s parents were terrorists or war criminals in Somalia”. Snopes also debunked the claim that Omar’s father was a “war criminal” here and found no evidence to support the allegation.

ISIS AND AL QAEDA

Slevin also confirmed to Reuters that the Minnesota Representative is not a “sympathizer” of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, as the meme alleges.

These allegations may stem from the misinterpretation of a 2013 interview Omar gave when she was a community organizer. Further reading on this can be found by the New York Times ( here ) , the Washington Post ( here ), NBC News ( here ), PolitiFact ( here ) and CNN ( here ). 

Other instances relating to Omar that may be behind the false notion that she supports ISIS or Al Qaeda can be seen here ,  here , and here . As these articles note, the congresswoman never expressed support for the terrorist groups (examples of her condemning ISIS on twitter can be seen  here  ,  and here  ).

Reuters has previously debunked posts that misleadingly attempted to relate Omar to Al Qaida with altered ( here ) or falsely labeled ( here ) photographs.

VERDICT

False. Ilhan Omar was arrested once, in 2013, and she has 23 traffic case records for minor traffic incidents. There is no evidence to claim Omar is the daughter of “Somali terrorists”. While there are some inconsistencies about her marriage history, there is no evidence that Omar committed “immigration or marriage fraud”. Though some of her comments have drawn controversy, Omar has never expressed public sympathy or support for Al Qaeda or ISIS, as the meme alleges.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts  here  .



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