Oduu Haaraya

Twin Cities businessman released in Ethiopia

Family members say they don’t know why Tashitaa Tufaa was handcuffed at an airport after visiting his ailing mother. 

A Twin Cities businessman detained by authorities in Ethiopia after he visited family there last week was released Monday and is on his way back to Minnesota, his son said.

Tashitaa Tufaa, the Ethiopian-American businessman and founder of Fridley school bus company Metropolitan Transportation Network, was detained at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa and held in the city for three days.

Tufaa’s son, Nuurasuu Tufaa, 20, said he and his four siblings cannot wait to have their father back. They are baffled by his arrest, he said.

“I think we can call it a victory when my dad is back on American soil,” the son said.

The elder Tufaa went to visit his sick mother Dec. 10. He spent about three weeks with her, taking care of her and going to and from the hospital during what could have been her last days, the son said.

“He was supposed to come back to America with one of my uncles who’s also an American citizen, and for some reason, they just detained him. It’s basically like a kidnapping the way my uncle described it,” Nuurasuu Tufaa said. “They just put him in handcuffs, they were very rough with him.”

Authorities threatened to arrest his uncle as well, he said. For 48 hours, his father’s whereabouts were unknown. Nuurasuu Tufaa said that when he was finally able to speak with his father for a moment on the phone, he didn’t really sound like himself.

“My dad has no hand in any politics. He’s just a businessman from America who just wanted to see his mom, so I really don’t know if there was any reason as to why he was arrested,” Nuurasuu Tufaa said.

The offices of Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips are in contact with the family and worked with the State Department to bring Tufaa home.

“I’m relieved to see that Tashitaa Tufaa has been released from detainment and is on his way back to the United States. I am eager for him to be reunited with his family here in Minnesota,” Klobuchar said in a statement.

In November, a truce was called in a two-year civil war in Ethiopia. While the Oromo people are the largest ethnic group in the country, they have faced discrimination from the Ethiopian government.

In the Twin Cities, Oromo community members are concerned for Tufaa’s safety and are looking forward to seeing him home with his family, said Bahar Oumer, executive director of Oromo Community of Minnesota, a St. Paul nonprofit.

“There is anger, disappointment because if a person like Tashitaa is detained, nobody would be spared,” Oumer said. “He is a person who is not involved in any organized political activity, just a person minding his business.”

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