What started as a normal lunch hour at Safari Market on Oct. 24 was disrupted when about 20 officers from the Grand Forks Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security rushed into the store through both doors, telling employees not to move and customers to vacate the premises.
Safari Market owner Sainab Yussuf recalls standing frozen, with her hands in the air.
“I’m shaking, I’m nervous, I’m scared. I couldn’t even move. I was shocked. I said, ‘what did I do wrong?’ ” Yussuf said, speaking through a translator. “Imagine someone, out of nowhere, comes to you and does that. What would you do in your situation, put in that situation yourself?”
Yussuf, a U.S. citizen, has lived in the country for 19 years. She moved to Grand Forks from Anchorage, Alaska, in 2014, and opened Safari Market, a Somali restaurant, cafe and grocery store, on South Washington Street in 2015. The store moved to its current location at 1305 Stanford Road in 2017.
On Oct. 24, police confiscated the market’s computer, phone, surveillance cameras and numerous ledgers and documents in what Yussuf is now alleging was wrongful search and seizure.
The state maintains that the search warrant was legitimate, and that police had enough evidence that an illegal money transferring business was being run at the restaurant to justify the search.
She is requesting that an evidentiary hearing be held in the Grand Forks District Court as part of the process to request the Grand Forks Police Department return her property. A date for the hearing is expected to be set Jan. 13.
The North Dakota Department of Financial Institutions considered Safari Market's money transmitting business illegitimate. Yussuf’s attorney, David Thompson, argues that she was operating in good faith without realizing any potential troubles with state law. Safari Market has operated as a sub-delegate of Minneapolis-based Olympic Financial Group since October 2016. However, Thompson said Olympic Financial Group didn’t properly request authorization for Safari Market’s business through the Department of Financial Institutions.
Yussuf said the Oct. 24 search and seizure has had lasting impacts. She said she has had trouble sleeping since the incident, and business at Safari Market is down about 90%.
“People are scared to come to the store now,” she said.
If business continues on the same trend it has since Oct. 24, she said she’s worried she’ll have to close the store. If that happens, Somali-American Shadia Jeylani said she doesn’t know if she will have a reason to stay in Grand Forks.
Jeylani, Yussuf’s niece, works at Safari Market and as a translator for the city. She is working to become a registered nurse through Northland Community and Technical College and plans to graduate in spring 2020.
Once she graduates, she said she’s considering taking her children and moving to Seattle or California.
“This is the biggest store, I think, for East Africans that has everything, with the restaurant, the money transfer and everything,” Jeylani said. “If they close this, where are we going to go? Drive to Fargo one hour, or go to the cities? It’s tough. If they close the store, where are we going to go? I wanted to stay here forever, but if they close the store, I’m gone.”
Yussuf said that, since the Oct. 24 incident, especially, some Grand Forks residents have associated local Somali people with terrorists.
She emphasized that she hates the East African jihadist fundamentalist group al-Shabaab and the violence it has committed in her home country. She said she, like many Somali immigrants, fled the country to escape those acts of violence, such as the attack in Kismayo, Somalia, that killed her cousin's daughter, Hodan Nalayeh, a prominent Canadian-Somali journalist in July.
According to a New Americans study done by the city, about 10.7% of Grand Forks' immigrant population was refugees in 2015, with most coming from Bhutan and Somalia. The city reported that 155 Somali refugees were resettled in Grand Forks from 2002 to 2015.
Yussuf said those who use the money transmitting business at Safari Market tend to be working people sending money back to their families. Generally, she said her money transfer customers come in about once a month, after all the bills and the rent have been paid, to send whatever money is left over.
The money transfer business makes up about 15% of Safari Market’s total revenue, Yussuf said, but their money transfer customers will frequently buy something from the store or have a meal in the restaurant.
Thompson said, as soon as the store found out the legality of its sub-delegate contract with Olympic Financial Group was in question, the store immediately stopped transmitting money. As of Dec. 5, Safari Market is now a delegate of Olympic Financial Group recognized by the North Dakota Department of Financial Institutions and can legally transmit money in North Dakota.
“My auntie is innocent. She is a very good lady,” Jeylani said. “The whole city, the community, they look at her as model person, as a good leader. They come to her when somebody dies, they come to her to say, donate, and she donates, when it comes to anything health that needs the community. ... They just look at one little fact, one little wrong thing, and suddenly you’re a bad person.”