Mohamed Omar Ali, a 59-year-old Somali national, was arrested Friday on charges of sexual assault of a child and sexual indecency of a child after an investigation was launched in September, Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls told reporters at a press conference Monday.
Nehls described Ali as a popular “religious leader” who spent time at several mosques in Fort Bend County, as well as in greater Houston. Investigators believe Ali also victimized other children dating back to 2013 after he arrived in the US.
“We do know that there are other victims out there,” Nehls said. “And it is our plea today to those victims to please reach out to us so we can conduct further investigation.”
Ali met his alleged victims through their parents, who invited him into their homes and paid him to teach their children the Quran, Detective Michael Alexander said.
All of Ali’s purported victims were juveniles at the time of the alleged abuse, according to Alexander, who declined to specify whether they were boys or girls.
Shariq Abdul Ghani — who runs the Minaret Foundation, a group designed to increase the “civic engagement” of Muslims — said Ali was not employed by any mosque in Fort Bend County but traveled to various places of worship and schools in the area.
“He would visit different homes and teach Quran,” Ghani told reporters. “Essentially, we’d call him a freelancer. He was looked at as a religious leader possibly by his victims. But as far as the Muslim community, he was unknown to us.”
But Ali’s “fluent understanding” of the Quran and his grasp of the Arabic language made him an ideal teacher, Ghani said.
Ghani later told the Houston Chronicle that Muslim leaders in Houston did not know Ali. The president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston said Ali was not a volunteer or an employee at any of its facilities, the newspaper reported.
Ali remained jailed on $125,000 bond but had an immigration detainer placed on him for living in the US illegally, Nehls said.
“He’s not going to be released from custody,” the sheriff said.