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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

False story on social media charges Syrian refugees raped Idaho girl

A story that’s circulating on social media and anti-Muslim and conspiracy-oriented websites is falsely claiming that three young Syrian refugees raped a young girl at knifepoint at an apartment complex in Twin Falls that supposedly is the site where about 50 Syrian refugees had been resettled – when in fact, no Syrian refugees have been resettled to Twin Falls. The story also charges that police failed to respond to the alleged incident in a timely fashion, which local authorities also say is false. “There was no gang rape, there was no Syrian involvement, there were no Syrian refugees involved, there was no knife used, there was no inactivity by the police,” said Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs. “I’m looking at the Drudge Report headline: ‘Syrian Refugees Rape Little Girl at Knifepoint in Idaho’ – all false.” The story, pushed by local anti-refugee activists who spoke out at a recent Twin Falls City Council Meeting, stems from a June 2 incident between four children at a low-income apartment complex in Twin Falls. Two older boys, 10 and 14, boys allegedly incited a 7-year-old boy to act inappropriately with a 5-year-old girl, in a laundry room at the complex. “The prosecutors and the police have done everything they were supposed to do,” Loebs said. “They filed charges and we’re waiting for court hearings.” The case has been sealed by the court because of the ages of the juveniles. Zeze Rwasama, director of the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center in Twin Falls, was stunned by the story. “We have not resettled Syrians in this area,” he said. “Now, it’s not because we don’t want to resettle them, I want to make that clear, just because they have not come our way yet. But it is very surprising that people are pushing the Syrians in this area. That shows me that probably there’s a different agenda that I don’t know of. If there is a story to tell, then the story should be all accurate.” Jan Reeves, director of the Idaho Office for Refugees, said in the past fiscal year, Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, there were 35 Syrian refugees resettled in Idaho, all in Boise, none in Twin Falls. Since the start of the current fiscal year, only one Syrian refugee has arrived in Idaho, also in Boise. The report of the alleged rape is being reported in graphic detail on sites including “InfoWars” and “Treasure Valley Refugee Resettlement Facts,” an anti-Muslim blog. KMVT-TV reported that there was a sexual assault reported at the apartment complex on June 2, but no details were available. The story on the anti-Muslim sites charges that three young Syrian refugees raped and urinated on a young girl at the apartment complex, and filmed the attack. At a recent Twin Falls City Council meeting, an array of local residents who oppose refugee resettlement spoke out during an open forum segment of the meeting, several of them citing the rape story and others warning that “ISIS is here,” “There’s a lot of pornography on foreigner web pages in Twin Falls,” objecting to the city’s approval of a local mosque, and charging that a Muslim woman had spit on someone at a local grocery store. Council members told the residents they knew nothing about the alleged rape, and that if the residents know anything about a crime being committed, they should call the police. Reeves said, “I have no knowledge of any situation like that in Twin Falls. … There have been no Syrians resettled in Twin Falls, so that part of the story is absolutely false. It’s just patently false.” He added, “It is a horrible story. But it is clearly, whatever happened is not the result of Syrian youth living in Twin Falls, at least not through the refugee resettlement program. … I’m sorry that they publish things like that that are untrue. But the fact is the internet is open to anybody who wants to publish anything they want to.” A Twin Falls group tried to gather signatures for a ballot measure to ban refugee resettlement in Twin Falls County this spring, but wasn’t able to gather the needed signatures. Rwasama said the CSI Refugee Center has strong community support. “Supporters come here and we have overwhelming donations and actually people on waiting lists, to wait to volunteer for us,” he said.