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Journalist Who Returned to Native Somalia to Help Locals Killed in Hotel Attack

FILE - Caption Somali-Canadian journalist Hodan Nalayeh smiles in Laascaanood, Somalia, June 15, 2019.
FILE - Caption Somali-Canadian journalist Hodan Nalayeh smiles in Laascaanood, Somalia, June 15, 2019.

Abdikarim Olol contributed to this story from Las Anod.

WASHINGTON / LAS ANOD, SOMALIA - Among the 26 people killed at a hotel following a terrorist attack in southern Somalia Friday was Hodan Nalayeh, a television journalist who returned from the diaspora to help locals build a better life.

She was achieving her goals until al-Shabab militants gunned her down.

FILE - Soldiers patrol the seaport in Somalia's southern port city of Kismayo, November 29, 2012.
FILE - Soldiers patrol the seaport in Somalia's southern port city of Kismayo, November 29, 2012.

Nalayeh was trying to change the narrative of reporting about Somalia, which she considered “mostly negative,” according to Siad Ali, the director of outreach for Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and a relative of Nalayeh.

“She was not a fan of promoting politicians or talking about the politics," Ali told VOA. "Her uniqueness was reporting the positivity of Somalia and the people of Somalia, from Somalia to diaspora. So that has attracted thousands of youth throughout Somalia, and to see the good side of Somalia and the prosperity side of Somalia.”

Nalayeh also thought she could impact the lives of the young Somalis who were not receiving an education.

Late last month, she visited her home town, Las Anod, where her family opened a school for 150 nomadic children. The family also opened a library for young children to learn painting, reading and storytelling, the first of its kind in the country.

“People don’t have lots of opportunities, education is poor, no jobs,” she told VOA Somali at the opening of the library.

She said this would change if Somalis from the diaspora returned and helped their country.

“Every Somali person who is listening to me, the country needs you,” she said. “Your people are in need, they are hungry...hungry psychologically. If you have a little bit in the diaspora come back, build a hospital if you are a doctor, teach if you are a teacher,” she said.

Edmonton, Toronto, Kismayo

Hodan Nalayeh was born in Somalia but spent most of her life in North America. Her family moved to Edmonton, Alberta when she was just eight years old in 1984, and later moved to Toronto. After working in American radio and TV, she returned to Canada and launched a show called Integration, that focused on the Somali-Canadian community.

But last year, Nalayeh moved to Kismayo after meeting her new husband, Farid Jama, a former politician-turned businessman.

On April 21, Nalayeh communicated with her friend and VOA Somali reporter Sahra Abdi Ahmed. She reported that life in the Somali coastal city was good.

FILE - Picture of Kismayo, Somalia, taken September 28, 2012.
FILE - Picture of Kismayo, Somalia, taken September 28, 2012.

"I married the love of my life from Kismayo,” she wrote. “He is three generations [here in] Kismayo and was a former minister. Farid Jama is his name. I never thought I would enjoy [living] here so much."

In a Twitter post from Kismayo just four days before her death, Nalayeh posted breathtaking pictures of sunset from the beach. “People save all their lives to have a retirement by the beach, yet, we have plenty of it and cannot see its value. Let’s appreciate the beautiful blessings we have,” she wrote.

Nalayeh's joy was shattered Friday when al-Shabab attacked the As-Asey hotel with a car bomb and suicide attackers stormed inside. Both Nalayeh and her husband were killed. She was pregnant at the time.

Ali was in a meeting when he heard the news of Nalayeh’s killing.

“My first reaction was – unbelievable!” he said. “I was shocked; I’m still in a state of shock. That was the saddest news I have ever heard. I could not hold it.”

Imam Said Ragaeh of Canada knew Nalayeh. He condemned the brutality of the attack.

“I was saddened by her death because her ambition for her country and the barbaric act against her do not match, I’m saddened,” he told VOA Somali.


Ali says people will remember Nalayeh as an “inspiring” person who was promoting peace and coexisting among Somalis.

“She was a role model to all women, children; she was my role model. She left a beautiful legacy behind. She left a legacy of hope," he said.

Nalayeh was the second journalist killed in the attack. Mohamed Omar Sahal, a reporter for local SBC television was also killed. On Friday he went to the hotel to interview a humanitarian worker who was staying there. He was shot in the head by the al-Shabab militants, according to friends.

The other victims included an entrepreneur whom Nalayeh met in Tanzania, Mahad Abdullahi Nur, who was visiting Kismayo in search of investment opportunities.

Also killed were an aid worker, Abdullahi Isse, a former Somali lawmaker and Deputy Minister Mohamed Ismail Shurie, along with a traditional elder, Hassan Jelle.