Editor’s note: The name of the victim in this story has been changed to protect her safety. Sarah Penskey is not her real name.
Sarah Penskey was in her garage unpacking boxes on a sunny morning in late June when she was approached by several bearded Somali men in their early to mid-20s.
It was the last week of Ramadan, and the men were wearing traditional Islamic robes.
The uninvited visitors to this posh Minneapolis neighborhood known as Linden Hills – situated among tall trees just off of Thomas Beach on Lake Calhoun – ground to a halt beside Penskey’s house that morning.
They came in a white RAV 4 Toyota and a dark-colored van, catching her unawares as she walked out of her garage to put something in her trash can.
It was just the day before that another group of Somalis had driven through the neighborhood and approached her as she was turning on her sprinkler, but they were younger, in their late teens and dressed in basketball shorts, not robes.
Penskey, blonde with an hourglass figure, quickly became an object of their curiosity.
“Hey, you have a beautiful house,” they said. “You’re beautiful, too. Can we move in with you?”
“Thank you. Have a nice day at the beach,” she replied, dismissively, walking back into her house and doing her best to, as she says, “diffuse the situation.”
The older group that showed up the next day was not so subtle. Nor would they be so easily dismissed.
“Hey, hey… hey,” they yelled as she was taking out her trash.
“We want to live in your house. We want to marry you.”
“No, I already have a husband, but have a good day,” Penskey replied.
The men starting jostling with each other and yelling things that were hard to understand. At least five other cars were driving recklessly through the narrow streets, setting off bottle rockets, their passengers hanging off of the door frames, some even riding on the hood, yelling, “Jihad!”
They ran over some neighbors’ lawns and reportedly beat up one resident’s dog.
“Do you know Shariah law?” one of the older men in robes yelled at Penskey.
Having lived overseas, Penskey knew about Shariah law and its rules for man-woman relationships and Muslim-non-Muslim relationships.
“Yes,” she said, walking back toward her garage.
“We can kidnap you and rape you!” the men shouted back at her.
She shut the garage door and ran inside to call police.
“I didn’t yell at them. I didn’t do anything, just tried to shut the door and get back inside, so it’s like there were some bad apples one day, and then there were some really bad apples the next,” Penskey told WND in a phone interview Wednesday. Her husband was not home during either of her first two encounters with the Somali men.
Many neighbors called police on the second morning of what some are calling the Somali “wilding,” a day of brazen intimidation that started in Linden Hills using fireworks and fake guns and spread to the adjacent beach on Lake Calhoun.
“On the second day, multiple neighbors were running out, trying to get license plate numbers, and were on the phone with the police. They were running outside, barefoot. One woman came and swept up her child and took her back in the house,” Penskey said. “Imagine six cars driving 50 mph through a residential street, then slamming on the brakes, driving on lawns, exploding fireworks. They almost hit one child and actually did hit one of their own.”
Several of the Somalis carried black flags that Penskey said resembled the ISIS flag.
A man in his sixties was reportedly threatened by one Somali who demanded that he erase the picture of his license plate from the man’s camera.
Police took up to three hours to arrive. The dispatchers told Penskey they didn’t have enough officers on duty to confront 20 or more men. The police did periodic drive-bys to monitor the situation. When they did show up, the worst offenders were gone.
The police report says officers arrived to find a female victim, Penskey, who was “very distraught and alone. Crying.”
She had called 9-1-1 three times that day. An officer arrived once earlier but only wrote a minor traffic ticket to one of the rioters. The main instigators had fled before police got there.
Police: ‘This is a very unusual case’
John Elder, public information officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, told WND Wednesday there have been no arrests in the incident to date.
“There remains an active investigation, and I am very limited in what I can say due to the fact that it is an active investigation,” Elder said. “We continue to work with the community, and continue to interview folks, but no arrests have been made at this point.”
WND asked if any arrests were anticipated.
“I can’t comment on that,” Elder said.
Is this type of activity common in Minneapolis?
“This is an unusual case, yep,” the officer said.
The case is being investigated as a situation involving potential terroristic threats. Penskey said the FBI has also visited her and is taking the case very seriously.
Day 3: Men in robes return
And the terrorizing of Linden Hills didn’t stop after that second day.
The men returned for a third straight morning, June 28, and this time Penskey’s husband was home, standing out in the yard as they approached.
It was the younger group of Somalis this time, not the older ones dressed in robes. Within minutes, the older provocateurs were back, however, with their robes and their duffel bags, their flags and their bottle rockets, shouting their threats in this strange form of jihad.
But this time they had a surprise for the targets of their terror.
“They slowed the car down, waved at my husband with the windows open and played a recording of what sounded like a woman being raped, blasted it from their car speakers,” Penskey said. “Then they parked their car, and my husband came upstairs and said call 9-1-1 now and stay away from the windows.”
The robed Somalis scared vacationers off the beach that morning, reportedly using their duffel bags as fake guns, pointing them at families and pretending to shoot them, one by one. The sound of exploding bottle rockets crashed through the heavy morning air.
“The beach emptied out real quick. It was about 10 a.m., and there weren’t a lot of people out there. But those who were got up and immediately walked toward the parking lot yelling, ‘Call the cops!” witnesses told WND.
“The problem is this escalated so fast, but it was more at the beach side on the third day,” Penskey said. “They said something inappropriate to my husband turning on the recording of a woman being raped, or having loud sex, and just waved at him and smiled, a threat, to my husband. What was he to think? He was just furious and came upstairs and said you can’t leave the house today.”
Police arrived much faster this time, within three minutes. But, again, the older ones who were the main instigators had already driven away.
Even in liberal-minded Minnesota, where the sight of bearded Somalis in Islamic attire is considered part of the multicultural norm, the reaction of the beach-goers reflected the level of aggressiveness that was on display.
“They’re not accepted on the beach that way. You have beards and you’re dressed in long robes and using a duffel bag like you’re shooting a machine gun,” Penskey said. “People left. People left the beach.
“I don’t think people realize how bad it is in Minnesota and what type of backdrop we have here.”
Feds import 132,000 Somali refugees over 30 years
The federal government, working with the United Nations, Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services among other agencies, has imported more than 132,000 Somali refugees into dozens of U.S. towns since 1983, according to U.S. State Department data, but the largest contingent has been sent to Minneapolis.
Judy Layer, 76, lives next door to Penskey at Linden Hills and was an eyewitness to the events of June 26-28.
She is most infuriated by a group of commenters who swarmed a neighborhood website and tried to either downplay the incident as simply some obnoxious youngsters having summer fun or to say that it didn’t happen at all.
“I’ll just tell you what I saw, and it did happen. There are so many people who were saying it was all made up,” Layer said. “I was walking my dog. I went around the block, came into my house, sat on my deck and was reading on my iPad.”
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Her husband was still upstairs getting dressed. The couple has lived in Linden Hills for 22 years.
“I did see a pattern developing of about five cars coming in, turning around, then the kids would get out of the cars, be shadow boxing with each other, they were loud,” Layer said. “Then I saw them all go into a cluster. They were speaking with Sarah [Penskey]. And I said to my husband, ‘Come here, this looks like kind of a situation. She can’t be too comfortable with this. She was watering the lawn.’ So Jim called the police, and others did the same.”
One young man came running down the hill in his dress shirt and took pictures of license plates, she said.
“I can understand why one police car would not want to come into this situation. I counted 19 or 20 at one time,” she said. “But what I didn’t like is that some people remarked on the website Nextdoor-LindenHills that, ‘Oh, it’s just a bunch of old people that like to call the police.’ I don’t sit around wanting to call the police.”
Local newspaper goes dark on incident
The local newspaper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, has ignored the incident. And only one TV station, KSTP Channel 5, has covered it.
“And so now it’s being said that it’s all being made up. It wasn’t made up; this happened,” Layer said. “Why it was only being reported on Channel 5, I don’t know.”
Layer said she tried to capture video, “But I missed the part where all the cars were veering around, screaming. Had it been late at night, I think it would have been more dangerous. I wasn’t’ trying to sensationalize it. But on the other hand, it did happen.”
Layer said the Somalis “named a practice” by which they could have four wives. That would be Shariah.
“And she said, ‘Well, I’m married,’ and she just wanted to get in the house,” Layer said of Penskey.
‘Dogs are unclean’
Layer said this is not the first time Somalis using the adjacent beach have targeted dogs in her neighborhood.
“There was an incident involving a girl with the dog, where she had a dog and felt she was verbally accosted by this group,” she said. “This girl at the lake made a police report. They think dogs are unclean.”
Since hearing of that incident, Layer said she takes precautions when walking her own dog.
“I’ve got a dog, and I walk my dog, but I go a different path now. I just don’t need that, so I’m happy to change my path,” she said. “After that happened, yes, I changed my route. I thought, yeah, I’ll just go down this alley and take my dog and come back. I’d rather do that than be confronted by something like that.”
Penskey said she has also been maligned by online commenters who accuse her and others of making the situation worse be attempting to video the young Somali men.
“There are people online saying this never would have happened if not for the video. Do you think I’m stupid enough to walk out of my house and take video of them?” she asked. “Some neighbors were shooting video, but even the Somalis themselves took photos and video of what they were doing. But, no, I’m not stupid enough to stand in my yard and take video of 19 or more 20-year-old men.”
Penskey and Layer both said Minnesotans are afraid to confront the issue of Somali terrorism and crime, even after six young Somalis were arrested last year and charged with trying to join ISIS. They are among nearly 40 who have been charged with trying to join foreign terror groups since 2007, and dozens of others have been convicted of providing material support to overseas terrorists.
“People are too afraid of the backlash, and that’s why people are afraid to say something,” Penske said. “If you do, you’ll either get a backlash or be called a bigot.”