Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Police reports shed light on why four Ethiopian athletes fled World Junior championships

Ethiopian runner Dureti Edao approached her coaches on July 25, requesting access to her passport. Edao, who was competing at the IAAF World Junior Track and Field Championships in Eugene that week, signed a contract with Adidas earlier that day and needed a copy of her passport to finalize the agreement, according to a University of Oregon Police report (Edao’s teammate, Zeyituna Mohammed, signed with Nike that day, as well).

The coaches gave Edao the key to the room that stored her passport.

That evening, several Ethiopian athletes saw Edao, Mohammed and two of their teammates carrying luggage and getting into a white Ford Taurus with an unknown driver. Around 11:45 p.m., University of Oregon Police officer John Loos received a call for service at the Hamilton-Boynton residence hall. Ethiopian coaches Dube Jillo and Mear Ali Sirro told him that the four Ethiopian athletes who entered the Taurus had been missing for about half an hour. The UOPD reported the athletes missing the next day.

The four runners – Edao, 18; Mohammed, 18; Meaza Kebede, an 18-year-old woman; and Amanuel Abebe Atibeha, a 17-year-old boy – remained missing for several days. Three of them were found safe on July 28 in Beaverton, Oregon at an acquaintance’s home by local police. The remaining missing athlete, Mohammed, resided with an acquaintance in Federal Way, Washington, where she was located by police on July 29. On Friday, The Oregonian reported that the athletes defected from their home country, confirming what many people, including the Ethiopian coaches, suspected.

Negina Pirzad, a UO ambassador for the World Juniors, told the Emerald on July 27 that ambassadors were taught during preparation classes that some athletes might try to remain in the U.S. following the championships. If any athletes did try to stay, the ambassadors were told to inform the UOPD.

“(Ambassadors) were told that they should prepare for it in case it does happen, because it is an international event and we are hosting people from developing countries and places with war,” Pirzad said.

Mohammed told Federal Way police that she and her three teammates decided to defect because they were too afraid to return to Ethiopia, according to The Oregonian’s report. Numerous terrorist attacks and violent protests have occurred throughout the athletes’ home country in recent months and years.

In October 2013, a bomb detonated in a residential area of Addis Ababa (Ethiopia’s capital), killing two people who were reportedly members of the militant group, al-Shabaab. Those two people had intended to attack fans at an Ethiopian World Cup pre-qualifying match.

A month after the failed attack, the Ethiopian government issued a warning that al-Shabaab was planning to carry out attacks in several areas of the country, including Addis Ababa.

Civilian demonstrations have occurred in Addis Ababa, as well, and some have involved violence. In recent months, thousands of students have protested the “Integrated Development Master Plan,” which intends to expand and develop Addis Ababa. At least 11 people have been killed by police during these protests due to what the Ethiopian government said were unruly demonstrators.

Mohammed told authorities that she isn’t certain if she’ll seek asylum in the U.S., according to The Oregonian. The other three athletes’ plans are equally murky as of Monday.