Associated Press, Published October 19 2012
Trial opens window on Somali terror group
Testimony in the trial of a Minneapolis man convicted of helping funnel young men from Minnesota to Somalia to join the terrorist group al-Shabab brought new details of the government’s yearslong investigation into the recruiting pipeline to light, including how alleged leaders of the conspiracy in Minneapolis worked together to indoctrinate new members.
Many of these ringleaders are presumed to be in Somalia – and catching them and others is “at the top of the priority list,” said E.K. Wilson, the supervisory special agent overseeing the FBI’s investigation.
Mahamud Said Omar, 46, was convicted Thursday of five terrorism-related counts that stemmed from a government investigation into what it said was the recruitment of more than 20 men who have left Minnesota since 2007 to join al-Shabab, a U.S.-designated terrorist group linked to al-Qaida that’s blamed for much of the violence in the East African country.
Omar’s attorneys say he plans to appeal. While Omar, a mosque janitor, was not portrayed as a leader of the scheme, authorities said he played a significant role in pushing men into a pipeline that they say – by sheer number of recruits alone – represents one of the largest efforts to pull U.S. fighters into a foreign terrorist group.
Much of the trial testimony focused on the overall investigation, which took years.
“Some folks are still fugitives and some folks lost their lives in the Horn of Africa, and there are still related ongoing investigations,” B. Todd Jones, the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, said after the verdict. “This isn’t the end of this kind of activity.”
Among the government witnesses who testified were three recruits who returned to the U.S. after traveling to Somalia to join al-Shabab’s fight against Ethiopian troops who were brought into Somalia by its weak U.N.-backed government.
While their stories differed slightly in detail, they all portrayed three men – Ahmed Ali Omar, Khalid Mohamed Abshir, and Omer Abdi Mohamed – as leaders of the recruiting effort for the group of travelers who left in 2007.
According to witness testimony, Omar was talkative and brought new men into the fold, telling them they’d be waging jihad against troops from neighboring Ethiopia, who were seen by many Somalis as invaders and who since have left.
Abshir had an uncle in Somalia who was a member of al-Shabab, and he reassured the recruits they’d be taken care of, witnesses said. The uncle was among the first people the recruits met in their early days in Somalia.
Witnesses said Mohamed was charismatic and well-versed in the Quran. One witness said Mohamed told the group that if they died while fighting non-Muslims, they would go to paradise and their sins would be forgiven.
“Most verses that he recited were something that had to do with fighting and battles,” said Kamal Said Hassan, a witness in the case. “I believed what he was saying.”
The recruits said the men told them to keep the plan secret. One witness said Mohamed told the recruits to travel in small groups and book round-trip tickets to avoid detection. He also helped one traveler get a false travel itinerary so he could get his passport from his parents.
The presumed leaders also had some power struggles in Minneapolis. When Omar invited two high school students two join the group of travelers in 2007, Abshir decided they were too young and their disappearances would expose the plan. The pair ended up being among the travelers who left for Somalia in 2008.
Omar and Abshir went to Somalia themselves and are at-large. They continued to use their forceful personalities to influence people there. Omar appeared in a recruiting video, urging others to come join the fight. He also made calls to Minneapolis when the fighters needed cash, and in 2008, he directed the defendant in the recent case to help a new group of travelers get tickets, according to court testimony.
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