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Jury Selection To Begin In Kansas Mosque Bomb Plot

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. In Wichita, Kan. today, three men go on trial for allegedly plotting to blow up an apartment building and mosque full of Somali immigrants in remote Garden City, Kan. Their arrest sparked old fears among refugees, many of whom work at a nearby meatpacking plant. But as Frank Morris from member station KCUR reports, the response after the arrests has made some Somalis feel more welcome than ever in their adopted home.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Southwest Kansas is vast, dry and, except for all the wind turbines, flat. It's easy to imagine a lone cowboy riding these hard, scrubby plains. But three meatpacking towns out here draw people from across the globe.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

MORRIS: At the African Shop in Garden City, Somali men sip spiced tea and watch soccer on a big, old TV. Outwardly, this tight community appears to be thriving. But a few blocks away, Ifrah Farah, a Somali immigrant wearing a silver, striped hijab, is holed up in her apartment, confining her errands to daytime.

IFRAH FARAH: Before, we can go anytime - 3 in the night. But right now, no. I stay home until the morning because I am scared.

MORRIS: Farah lives at 312 Mary St., a sprawling apartment complex allegedly targeted by three Kansas men who formed a tiny militia called the Crusaders, one prosecutors say plotted to kill Muslim immigrants. Throughout much of 2016, an FBI informant was with the suspects as they allegedly scouted Farah's apartment complex, bought bomb components and refined a plan to level the buildings and shoot any survivors.

FARAH: I would like to ask the guys, why? What I'm doing? Why you trying to kill me?

MORRIS: Lawyers defending the men are expected to argue that they didn't really intend to act on their racist threats and that they may have been steered by FBI informants. Farah says the raw hate exposed here comes as a shock. Garden City and the two other meatpacking towns out here are majority minority. Immigrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America are a key part of the workforce.

LEVITA ROHLMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken). How are you?

ROHLMAN: Fine, thank you. Thank you.

MORRIS: LeVita Rohlman is showing off one of Garden City's Vietnamese restaurants. She's run a Catholic relief agency working on behalf of refugees here for more than 40 years and says this arid, remote town has a reputation for hospitality.

ROHLMAN: I think we all give each other a chance here, even when things go wrong.

MORRIS: Maybe especially when things go wrong.

MICHAEL UTZ: When the terrorist plot was uncovered, I reached out to the president of the African Community Center, and I said, I need your help. He said, what do you need, Chief?

MORRIS: Garden City Police Chief Michael Utz says he wanted help convening a quick meeting with African immigrant leaders to tell them about the bomb plot before it hit the news. Next day, he was back to reassure other refugees.

UTZ: We made it a point to let the community know that the three individuals that were involved in this conspiracy were in custody, that the community was safe.

MORRIS: More meetings and public demonstrations supporting the immigrants followed. By most accounts, they worked. Sitting on his couch in that Mary Street apartment complex, Abdulkadir Mohamed says Garden City has grown closer since the government exposed the alleged bomb plot.

ABDULKADIR MOHAMED: The FBI, CIA and law enforcement - they worked together. That's what I believe. That's why I'm really happy, and I appreciate what they do, really, because I'm still alive.

MORRIS: And Mohamed is optimistic about the future of Garden City, a remote, rural town that's pulled together to support its many hardworking immigrants and its reputation for hospitality. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Garden City, Kan.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEEB'S "FLUID DYNAMICS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.