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Information sparse on cyanide death

Fam­i­ly seeks to recon­struct man’s last days as U.S. probe con­tin­ues

by Andrew Sey­mour
Ottawa Cit­i­zen

OTTAWA — An Ottawa man found dead of cyanide poi­son­ing in a Den­ver hotel room Mon­day had been in con­tact with a female rel­a­tive in the Col­orado city in the days before his death, accord­ing to the direc­tor of a U.S.-based Soma­li activist group who is now assist­ing the man’s fam­i­ly.

Omar Jamal, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Soma­li Jus­tice Cen­ter in St. Paul, Min­neso­ta, said Sale­man Abdi­rah­man Dirie, 29, had been speak­ing with the rel­a­tive before trav­el­ling to the city about four or five days before his death.

Mr. Dirie was buried in a Den­ver ceme­tery Thurs­day amid a NBC news report that he com­mit­ted sui­cide.

The report, cit­ing unnamed fed­er­al offi­cials, said it’s believed Mr. Dirie mixed sodi­um cyanide with water and drank it. Accord­ing to the NBC news report, traces of cyanide were found in a glass next to the bed.

Spokes­peo­ple for the Den­ver police and FBI would not con­firm the report Thurs­day, and Den­ver’s deputy chief coro­ner, Michelle Weiss-Sama­ras, was adamant that her office had not deter­mined the man­ner of Mr. Dirie’s death. How­ev­er, they could con­firm he died of cyanide poi­son­ing, she said.

Mr. Jamal, a promi­nent Soma­li activist who said he is act­ing as a spokesman for Mr. Dirie’s fam­i­ly, said they could not ver­i­fy the sui­cide reports.

He added it was not yet clear whether Mr. Dirie — who suf­fered from schiz­o­phre­nia — was trav­el­ling to Den­ver to meet the rel­a­tive.

Accord­ing to Mr. Jamal, Mr. Dirie left Ottawa on or about Aug. 7 by bus for Den­ver. That con­tra­dict­ed infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed by a spokesman for U.S. Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment Thurs­day, whose records indi­cate Mr. Dirie entered the U.S. on Aug. 5 at a bor­der cross­ing in Detroit.

Addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion, such as whether he was on a bus or trav­el­ling by car, was not avail­able.

Mr. Jamal said he planned to talk with the woman Mr. Dirie spoke to about what she knows about his vis­it. Accord­ing to Mr. Jamal, the rel­a­tive’s phone num­ber was one of the last num­bers Mr. Dirie called from his cell­phone in the days before his death.

Mr. Jamal said the Soma­li com­mu­ni­ty has been dis­mayed fol­low­ing ram­pant spec­u­la­tion that Mr. Dirie may have been involved in a ter­ror­ist plot tar­get­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion, which is to open in Den­ver on Aug. 25.

Den­ver police have since reject­ed any sug­ges­tions Mr. Dirie’s death is ter­ror­ism-relat­ed, call­ing it an “iso­lat­ed inci­dent.”

How­ev­er, the FBI’s joint ter­ror­ism task force was involved in the inves­ti­ga­tion after Mr. Dirie’s body was found next to a jar of a pow­dery sub­stance that was lat­er iden­ti­fied as sodi­um cyanide, the crys­tal form of the chem­i­cal.

Accord­ing to a report in the Rocky Moun­tain News, the FBI recov­ered a jar labelled haz­ardous, which con­tained about half a litre of white pow­der.

Den­ver police have said foul play is not sus­pect­ed in Mr. Dirie’s death.

They were releas­ing no fur­ther infor­ma­tion Thurs­day about why they think Mr. Dirie was in pos­ses­sion of the sodi­um cyanide.

Mr. Dirie’s sis­ter told the Cit­i­zen Wednes­day that her broth­er suf­fered from men­tal ill­ness, and she angri­ly reject­ed any sug­ges­tion that he was tied to ter­ror­ism or had any inten­tion of harm­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Barack Oba­ma.

She said her broth­er was on vaca­tion when he died.

He was not sui­ci­dal, and had been tak­ing his med­ica­tion reg­u­lar­ly since being diag­nosed with schiz­o­phre­nia about three years ago, she said.

He nev­er got into trou­ble with the law, accord­ing to friends, fam­i­ly and police.

A Cana­di­an cit­i­zen, Mr. Dirie had lived in Ottawa for 13 years. His fam­i­ly arrived as refugees from Soma­li when he was 17.

Mr. Jamal chas­tised both the FBI and the media for mak­ing a “rush to judg­ment” on the case by fuelling spec­u­la­tion Mr. Dirie was in pos­ses­sion of the cyanide for ter­ror­ist pur­pos­es.

“There are more ques­tions than answers,” he said, adding Mr. Dirie’s fam­i­ly is “as con­fused as every­one else” about what has hap­pened.

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