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No evidence that US congresswoman Ilhan Omar married her brother

The marriage certificate of US member of congress Ilhan Omar to ex-husband Ahmed Elmi, a British citizen, has been shared on social media in South Africa with a strange claim: that the two are sister and brother.

Allegations that Omar married her brother to get him US citizenship emerged during her 2016 campaign for a seat in the state of Minnesota’s house of representatives, according to fact-checking website Snopes.

The rumour was apparently first posted anonymously, and then deleted, on a Somali discussion forum. It was then repeated on a conservative political blog and on Alpha News

In response, Omar released a press statement on her personal life and family. She said any suggestions that Elmi was her brother were “absurd and offensive”.

But this didn’t stop the rumour from circulating, particularly during her 2018 campaign for congress. In July 2019, US president Donald Trump repeated the claim.

Omar has been married twice - but not to her brother

According to Omar’s 2016 statement, she has been married twice. In 2002 she married her current husband Ahmed Hirsi, “the father of my children and love of my life”, by Islamic custom. They separated in the faith tradition in 2008.

In 2009 Omar married Elmi, legally and in the faith, so the marriage certificate being shared is likely authentic. They divorced in 2011 under Islamic custom but remained legally married even after she reconciled with Hirsi.

Omar’s hometown paper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, published an in-depth investigation into her marriages in 2018. The paper says Omar and Elmi’s legal divorce was finalised in 2017, a month before she legally married Hirsi. 

Omar was born in Somalia and migrated to the US with her family when she was 14, after spending four years in a Kenyan refugee camp.

She gave the Star Tribune photos of her family’s immigration documents. They list six siblings, all granted refugee status. Elmi’s name is not on the list.

‘Marriage’ not needed for citizenship

Snopes’s fact-check also points out that if Elmi were Omar’s brother, she or her siblings could have sponsored his application for citizenship under US immigration law. There would have been no need for her to marry him.

There have been several other attempts to test the authenticity of the rumour that Omar married her brother in some migration scam. It is difficult to get records from Somalia because of ongoing unrest. But fact-checks by Associated Press, the New York Times and Politifact have been unable to find any proof that Elmi is related to Omar. 

And the legal burden of proof lies with the accuser. Omar has questioned why she should have to prove a negative, that Elmi is not her brother.

She told the Star Tribune: “It’s really strange, right, to try to prove a negative. If someone was asking me, do I have a brother by that name, I don’t.”  – Africa Check


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