Ilhan Abdullahi Omar (born October 4, 1981) is a Somali-American politician serving as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota's 5th congressional district since 2019. The district includes all of Minneapolis and some of its suburbs.
Omar was born in Mogadishu on October 4, 1981, and spent her early years in Baidoa, Somalia. She was the youngest of seven siblings, including Sahra Noor. Her father Nur Omar Mohamed, an ethnic Somali, worked as a teacher trainer, and her mother, Fadhuma Abukar Haji Hussein, a Benadiri (a community of partial Yemeni descent), died when Ilhan was two. She was raised by her father and grandfather thereafter. Her grandfather Abukar was the director of Somalia's National Marine Transport and some of Omar's uncles and aunts also worked as civil servants and educators. She and her family fled Somalia to escape the war and spent four years in a Dadaab refugee camp in Garissa County, Kenya, near the Somali border.
In February 2019 Omar questioned whether Elliott Abrams, whom Trump appointed as Special Representative for Venezuela in January 2019, was the correct choice given his past support of right-wing authoritarian regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala, his initial doubts about the number of reported deaths in the El Mozote massacre in 1982, and his two 1991 misdemeanor convictions for withholding information from Congress about the Iran–Contra affair, for which he was later pardoned by George H. W. Bush.
After first arriving in New York in 1992, Omar's family finally secured asylum in the U.S. in 1995 and lived for a time in Arlington, Virginia, before moving to and settling in Minneapolis, where her father worked first as a taxi driver and later for the post office. Her father and grandfather emphasized the importance of democracy during her upbringing, and at age 14 she accompanied her grandfather to caucus meetings, serving as his interpreter. Omar became a U.S. citizen in 2000 when she was 17 years old. She has spoken about being bullied for wearing a hijab during her time in Virginia, recalling classmates sticking gum on it, pushing her down stairs, and jumping her when changing for gym class. Omar remembers her father's reaction to these incidents: "They are doing something to you because they feel threatened in some way by your existence."
On April 11, 2019, the front page of The New York Post carried an image of the World Trade Center burning following the September 11 terrorist attacks and a quotation from a speech Omar gave the previous month. The headline read, "REP. ILHAN OMAR: 9/11 WAS 'SOME PEOPLE DID SOMETHING'", and a caption underneath added, "Here's your something ... 2,977 people dead by terrorism." The Post was quoting a speech Omar had given at a recent Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) meeting. In the speech Omar said, "CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us [Muslims in the U.S.] were starting to lose access to our civil liberties". (In fact CAIR was founded in 1994, but many new members joined after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.)
In 2002 she became engaged to Ahmed Hirsi (né Aden). The couple applied for a marriage license, but the application was not finalized. The couple had two children together before separating in 2008. The next year Omar married Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, a British citizen. In 2011 she and Elmi had a faith-based divorce, and that year she reconciled with Hirsi, with whom she had a third child in 2012. In 2017 Elmi and Omar were legally divorced, and in 2018 Omar and Hirsi were legally married. They and their three children live in Minneapolis. Her daughter, Isra Hirsi, is one of the three principal organizers of the school strike for climate.
Omar attended Edison High School and volunteered there as a student organizer. She graduated from North Dakota State University with bachelor's degrees in political science and international studies in 2011. Omar was a Policy Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Omar began her professional career as a community nutrition educator at the University of Minnesota, working in that capacity from 2006 to 2009 in the Greater Minneapolis–Saint Paul area. In 2012 she served as campaign manager for Kari Dziedzic's reelection campaign for the Minnesota State Senate. Between 2012 and 2013 she was a child nutrition outreach coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Education.
In 2013, Omar managed Andrew Johnson's campaign for Minneapolis City Council. After Johnson was elected, she served as his Senior Policy Aide from 2013 to 2015. During a contentious precinct caucus that turned violent in February 2014, she was attacked by five people and was injured. According to MinnPost, the day before the caucus, Minneapolis city councilmember Abdi Warsame had told Johnson to warn Omar not to attend the meeting.
In 2014 Omar was named a rising star in the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party's Women's Hall of Fame.
As of September 2015 Omar was the Director of Policy Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network, advocating for women from East Africa to take on civic and political leadership roles. In September 2018, Jeff Cirillo of Roll Call called her a "progressive rising star."
In 2016 Omar ran on the Democratic–Farmer–Labor (DFL) ticket for the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 60B, which includes part of northeast Minneapolis. On August 9 Omar defeated Mohamud Noor and incumbent Phyllis Kahn in the DFL primary. Her chief opponent in the general election was Republican nominee Abdimalik Askar, another activist in the Somali American community. In late August, Askar announced his withdrawal from the campaign. In November 2016 Omar won the general election, becoming the first Somali American legislator in the United States. Her term began on January 3, 2017.
In 2017 Time magazine named Omar among its "Firsts: Women who are changing the world", a special report on 46 women who broke barriers in their respective disciplines, and featured her on the cover of its September 18 issue. Her family was named one of the "five families who are changing the world as we know it" by Vogue in their February 2018 issue featuring photographs by Annie Leibovitz.
In 2018 Omar came under criticism for statements she made about Israel before she was in the Minnesota legislature. In a 2012 tweet she wrote, "Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel." The comment, particularly the notion that Israel had "hypnotized the world," was criticized as drawing on anti-Semitic tropes. The New York Times columnist Bari Weiss wrote that Omar's statement tied into a millennia-old "conspiracy theory of the Jew as the hypnotic conspirator". When asked in an interview how she would respond to American Jews who found the remark offensive, Omar replied, "I don't know how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans. My comments precisely are addressing what was happening during the Gaza War and I'm clearly speaking about the way the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war." After reading Weiss's commentary, Omar apologized for not "disavowing the anti-Semitic trope I unknowingly used".
In 2018 Omar was featured in the video for Maroon 5's "Girls Like You".
In 2018 Republican state representative Steve Drazkowski publicly accused Omar of campaign finance violations, claiming that she used campaign funds to pay a divorce lawyer, and that her acceptance of speaking fees from public colleges violated Minnesota House rules. Omar responded that the attorney's fees were not personal but campaign-related; she offered to return the speaking fees. Drazkowski later accused Omar of improperly using campaign funds for personal travel to Estonia and locations in the U.S.
Omar was endorsed in 2018 by the Human Rights Campaign, a major LGBT civil rights advocacy group. In response to the endorsement, Omar stated, "I will fight for LGBTQIA+ rights in Washington D.C."
On June 5, 2018, Omar filed to run for the United States House of Representatives from Minnesota's 5th congressional district after six-term incumbent Keith Ellison announced he would not seek reelection to that office. On June 17 she was endorsed by the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party after two rounds of voting. Omar won the August 14 primary with 48.2% of the vote. The 5th district is the most Democratic district in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, (it has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D+26) and the DFL has held it without interruption since 1963. She faced health care worker and conservative activist Jennifer Zielinski in the November 6 general election and won with 78.0% of the vote, becoming the first Somali American elected to the U.S. Congress, the first woman of color to serve as a U.S. Representative from Minnesota, and (alongside former Michigan state representative Rashida Tlaib) one of the first Muslim women elected to the Congress.
Omar has criticized Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses and the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen. In October 2018 she tweeted: "The Saudi government might have been strategic at covering up the daily atrocities carried out against minorities, women, activists and even the #YemenGenocide, but the murder of #JamalKhashoggi should be the last evil act they are allowed to commit." She also called for a boycott of Saudi Arabia's regime, tweeting: "#BDSSaudi". The Saudi Arabian government responded by having dozens of anonymous Twitter troll accounts it controlled post tweets critical of Omar.
In 2019 Omar signed a letter led by Representative Ro Khanna and Senator Rand Paul to President Trump asserting that it is "long past time to rein in the use of force that goes beyond congressional authorization" and that they hoped this would "serve as a model for ending hostilities in the future—in particular, as you and your administration seek a political solution to our involvement in Afghanistan.”
In January 2019, amid the 2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis, Omar joined Democrats Ro Khanna and Tulsi Gabbard in denouncing the Trump administration's decision to recognize Juan Guaidó, the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, as Venezuela's interim president. She described Trump's action as a "U.S. backed coup" to "install a far right opposition", adding that the U.S. should not "hand pick" foreign leaders and should support "Mexico, Uruguay & the Vatican's efforts to facilitate a peaceful dialogue".
In February 2019 the FBI arrested United States Coast Guard Lieutenant Christopher Hasson, who was allegedly plotting to assassinate various journalists and left-of-center political figures in the United States, including Omar. According to prosecutors, Hasson is a self-described "long time White Nationalist" and former skinhead who wanted to use violence to "establish a white homeland." Prosecutors also alleged that Hasson was in contact with an American neo-Nazi leader, stockpiled weapons, and compiled a hit list. Prosecutors allege that Hasson's plans to commit domestic terrorism were inspired by Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik's 2011 domestic terrorist attacks.
In an exchange with the journalist Glenn Greenwald in February 2019, Omar tweeted, "It's all about the Benjamins baby" in reference to American politicians' support for Israel and invoked the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). A number of Democratic leaders—including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn—condemned the tweet, which was interpreted as implying that money was fueling American politicians' support of Israel. The Democratic House leadership released a statement accusing Omar of "engaging in 'deeply offensive' anti-Semitic tropes." The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) also denounced her statements. Omar issued an apology the next day, saying, "I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes", and adding, "I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry."
On or before February 22, 2019, "Assassinate Ilhan Omar" was graffitied in a Rogers, Minnesota Holiday gas station restroom, prompting an FBI investigation.
On February 27, 2019, Omar spoke at a bookstore and said of her critics: "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country." The statements were quickly criticized as allegedly drawing on anti-Semitic tropes of dual loyalty. House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel said it was "deeply offensive to call into question the loyalty of fellow American citizens" and asked Omar to retract her statement. House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Nita Lowey also called for an apology and criticized the statements in a March 3 tweet, which led to an online exchange between the two. In response, Omar reaffirmed her remarks, insisting that she "should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee." Omar said she was simply criticizing Israel, drawing a distinction between criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu and being anti-Semitic. Omar's spokesman, Jeremy Slevin, said Omar was speaking out about "the undue influence of lobbying groups for foreign interests."
On March 1, 2019, the West Virginia Republican Party held "WV GOP Day," an event to celebrate the Republican Party, at the West Virginia Capitol. An exhibitor, not associated with the GOP, displayed a poster at the event falsely connecting Omar to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, along with Islamophobic flyers. State delegate Mike Pushkin, in attendance at the event, said that no Republican delegates condemned the poster. The poster was condemned the following day by the WV GOP party, which said, "The West Virginia Republican Party does not approve, condone, or support hate speech." Omar pointed to the poster as an example of why she is targeted with violence, also citing white nationalist domestic terrorist Christopher Hasson placing her on his hit list and "Assassinate Ilhan Omar" being written in a Minnesota gas station.
In March 2019 Omar addressed a rally in support of a Minnesota bill that would ban gay conversion therapy in the state. She co-sponsored a similar bill when she was a member of the Minnesota House. In May 2019 Omar introduced legislation that would sanction Brunei over a recently introduced law that would make homosexual sex and adultery punishable by death.
On March 9, 2019, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro made what were widely condemned as prejudiced and Islamophobic comments on her show when she questioned Omar's loyalty to the United States because she wears a hijab. Fox also condemned the remarks and Pirro's show was not aired the following week.
On April 7, 2019, Patrick Carlineo Jr., an ardent supporter of President Trump, was arrested for threatening to assault and violently murder Omar. The threats were made in a phone call to Omar's office. In May 2019 Carlineo was released from custody and placed on house arrest.
In May 2019, Omar said in an interview on Democracy Now! that U.S. foreign policy and economic sanctions are aimed at regime change and have contributed to the "devastation in Venezuela".