Safia Abdullahi

Safia Abdullahi and five of her children were subjected to a racist rant by a Rochester Subway employee recently. The employee was cited by police for disorderly conduct.

When Safia Abdullahi took her kids shopping at Walmart on Sunday, her two middle kids — ages 8 and 9 — ran ahead of their mom and siblings.

They reported back, saying they didn’t want to shop there that day.

“They said, ‘Oh, the knife guy is here,’” Abdullahi said.

“Knife guy” is 33-year-old Andrew Benning, whom Abdullahi and witnesses say days earlier went on a racist rant directed at her while gesturing with and holding a knife.

Abdullahi and her husband, Khadar Ali, say they’re disappointed Benning faces only a misdemeanor citation and that he apparently still holds his job at Subway.

On Aug. 11, on Muslim holiday Eid al Adha, Abdullahi took her six children for sandwiches at the Subway sandwich shop at Walmart in Northwest Rochester after a day of activities.

That’s when Benning shouted anti-Muslim slurs at her and told her to “go back to your country,” according to Abdullahi and witnesses.

“It was bad,” she said, adding she wasn’t sure whether he would have attacked her if two Walmart managers hadn’t intervened.

The incident

Abdullahi said she went to the Subway with a friend, who also brought her kids, after a family outing and time spent swimming at the Rochester YMCA. She said she approached the counter, ordered “five foot-longs on Italian bread” and was ignored. She asked again, and Benning pointed to the menu and told her not to talk to him until she read the menu.

Abdullahi said she again tried to order. Benning then hit the menu and asked if she was too stupid to read.

“I decided to go,” she said. “I was taking the kids (away) … he kept saying things and yelling.”

Benning told her to go back to her country and repeatedly told her to wash her “dirty Muslim hands.”


Calls to a number for Benning listed on police reports were not answered and no voice mail is set up.

Subway did not respond to requests for confirmation of Benning’s employment status.

Abdullahi said she responded to Benning’s statements.

“I say, ‘This is my country, too,’” she said.

Benning became confrontational and walked toward her while holding a knife and gesturing. Two Walmart managers intervened, she said. The two employees, John Timmerman and Corina Bergeson, are listed in police reports as witnesses to the incident.

On Tuesday, Abdullahi received notice by mail of Benning’s hearing, which is set for Sept. 10. She and Ali said they were disappointed to learn he faces only a misdemeanor citation.

“When somebody comes at somebody with a knife, it’s a not a misdemeanor,” said Ali, who wasn’t present at the time of the incident.

Familiar words

The couple noted Benning’s words echo those of President Trump who, on Twitter, urged four nonwhite congresswomen to “go back” to their own countries.

Like the four congresswomen, Abdullahi is a U.S. citizen. Born to a Somali family, she arrived in the U.S. from Ethiopia in 2003.

“I think the president and Fox News are fueling up people the wrong way and telling them a lot of things that aren’t real,” Ali said.

Ali came to the U.S. from Somalia in 1999.

“This is a great country,” he said. “This country welcomed us more than any other country.”

Abdullahi said such incidents are rare and most people have been welcoming and kind since she came to the U.S. She regrets her children and her friend’s children — 11 in total with ages ranging from 2 to 12 years old — heard the rant and insults.

“I said, 'It’s not you guys, it’s me,'” she said.

All the children who were there at the time of the incident were born in the U.S., she said.

Abdullahi said it was fortunate the children were there.

“With my kids there, I couldn’t say what I wanted to say to him,” she said.

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is looking into the incident, said Ellen Longfellow, civil rights attorney with CAIR.

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