A 26-year-old Chanhassen man has been charged with lying to federal agents who are investigating ties between Minnesota and a Somali extremist group.
The case of Abdow Munye Abdow, a medical technician with strong ties to the Twin Cities, raises the question of whether young Minnesotan men are still going to Somalia to fight, despite the intense scrutiny generated by the high-profile counterterrorism case.
Abdow is accused of providing false statements about a recent road trip involving a group of passengers who eventually left the U.S.
The FBI has confirmed Abdow's case is related to the ongoing investigation of about 20 men Minnesota men, who are believed to have gone to Somalia to fight with the extremist group al-Shabaaab. The U.S. believes it has ties to al-Qaida.
FBI spokesman E.K. Wilson would not say whether the agency is concerned that more young Americans may be traveling to Somalia to join the civil war there. Wilson said, however, identifying that kind of activity "is at the root of our investigation."
Wilson also declined to comment on what kind of role Abdow or his passengers may have in the case. Many community members have presumed that the sweeping terror case in Minnesota has put a chill on future recruitment in the U.S. Three men with Minnesota ties have pleaded guilty in the case, and six of the alleged fighters are believed dead.
Authorities say Abdow was driving four passengers when his rental car was stopped last Tuesday outside of Las Vegas by Nevada Highway Patrol. The group told the trooper they were on their way to a friend's wedding in San Diego, but their stories didn't match up, according to an affidavit by FBI agent Michael Cannizzaro Jr.
The trooper, who searched the car, found one of the passenger's passports and $4,000 in the vehicle, according to the affidavit.
The document does not list the passengers' final destination, but at least two of the people in Abdow's car were seen at the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego by an officer with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The individuals told the officer they planned to fly from Tijuana to Mexico City, the document said.
The FBI interviewed Abdow two days after his vehicle was stopped in Nevada. The affidavit says Abdow initially denied that there were five people in his car. He also claimed he did not know who paid for the rental car, while records obtained through the rental car company showed he paid for the bill.
Upon further questioning, Abdow told the agents that he did nothing wrong and, "whatever those guys are into, I'm not," according to the document.
Abdow was arrested Friday and was in custody as of this afternoon.
Judge Janie Mayeron denied a request by federal prosecutors to keep him in custody. Mayeron ruled that Abdow should be released to a halfway house, saying he did not pose a significant flight risk. She also noted his strong family ties to the area.
Fred Goetz, Abdow's attorney, said his client works as a medical technician at a local hospital and has lived in the Twin Cities for about 12 years. Goetz said Abdow graduated from high school in the area and attended a technical college for two years.
Members of Abdow's family declined to comment for this story after leaving the courtroom in St. Paul. According to a court document, his wife recently filed a missing-persons report.
As part of his conditions of release, Abdow must surrender his passport and provide a DNA sample. His next court appearance will be Oct. 27.