A prominent Canadian-Somali journalist who was among 27 people killed in a terrorist attack in Somalia’s southern port city of Kismayo Saturday is being celebrated for her efforts to change the narrative about her country.
Hodan Nalayeh’s family and friends say she dedicated her life to telling stories about Somalia that focused on more than just the devastating civil war that has gripped the country since 1991.
Nalayeh was killed in the assault on the Asasey hotel that began Friday night with a suicide bomber ramming a car packed with explosives and continued with a long gun battle, leaving 27 people dead and 56 others injured.
In a statement posted on Nalayeh’s Facebook page, her family said her husband, Farid Jama Suleiman, was also killed in the attack.
“Hodan leaves behind her two children, 11 siblings and beloved parents,” the statement said.
“She spent her life devoted to serving the Somali people and reporting on positive, uplifting stories. Her dedicated mission was to spread light and love to the Somali world through her work in journalism. She died serving the Somali community everywhere and doing what she loved most. She brought inspiration and hope to the Somali people through storytelling. She will be deeply missed.”
Amal Nalayeh, who lives in Canada, told over the phone from Nairobi, Kenya that she spoke with her sister just half an hour before she was killed in the attack.
Nalayeh said she was supposed to fly in from Canada on Saturday to stay with Hodan for the summer.
“But it didn’t happen and I ended up burying her,” she said.
After speaking with Nalayeh shortly before the attack, she said her son told her something was going on in a hotel in Kismayo.
“It took us a while to find out they took her to the hospital, I think she was alive,” Nalayeh said. “All she was saying was, ‘my children, my children, my children’,” Nalayeh said, referring to her sister’s sons, aged nine and seven.
“I don’t know how I am going to tell them,” she added.
She described her sister as “an unbelievable person” who will be missed.
“[She is a] big loss, big loss to the Somali people, especially the youth. They loved her back home, all over the world. Everybody is crying for her.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised Hodon Nalayeh for “inspiring Somali stories” and “broadening people’s perspectives and defending diversity and inclusion.”
“Her loss is deeply felt in Canada, and in Somali and journalistic communities around the world,” Trudeau said in a statement. “Canada strongly condemns this heinous attack, and will continue working with Somalia and other international partners to address the root causes of terrorism and violent extremism.”
In 2014, Nalayeh founded Integration TV, the first English-language TV show for Somalis around the world, which she also frequently hosted.
Nalayeh called her project “the first TV channel dedicated to Somali narrative” in a promotional video on YouTube.
She focused on telling stories about Somalia’s people, businesses, nature, cuisine and history.
Nalayeh also frequently tweeted about her life in Kismayo and Somalia in general, using the hashtag #MySomalia.
Nalayeh’s family emigrated to Canada when she was five years old.
Before her work in Somalia, Nalayeh worked in the Canadian media industry. She moved to Kismayo, where the deadly attack happened, last year.
Canada’s immigration minister, who is Somali by origin, tweeted that Nalayeh “became a voice for many.”
“Through her work as a journalist, Hodan highlighted the community’s positive stories and contributions in Canada,” Ahmed Hussen said in a tweet, adding: “We mourn her loss deeply.”
Sadiyo Siad, a British-Somali who said she knew Nalayeh for five years, told the 43-year-old was “full of life” and “a lovely human being.”
“I am devastated beyond belief,” said Siad, who like Nalayeh returned to the country to help Somali youth.
“She wanted to do stories on Somalia, positive stories, and wanted people to see the positive side of Somalia other than negative stories you hear in the mainstream media,” she said.
Al Shabab, an Islamic terrorist group linked to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack.