A Somali man was in federal court in Minneapolis Tuesday, challenging charges that he lied to the FBI in a case related to the disappearance of local Somali men.
Abdow Munye Abdow, 26, was among several men in a car stopped by Nevada state troopers in October. Those men are suspected of returning to Somalia to fight with the jihadist group Al Shabab.
Authorities allege that when Abdow, who is of Somali descent, was later asked about the trip, he lied to federal agents.
The FBI has been investigating the disappearance of up to 20 young Somali men who left Minnesota over the past two years and who agents believe are fighting with a terror group in their homeland. Fourteen people have been charged in the ongoing investigation, facing a variety of accusations from recruiting and raising funds for the trips, to engaging in terrorist acts in Somalia, to perjury.
Abdow's attorney, Earl Gray, argued there was no basis for the Nevada traffic stop, so all the evidence stemming from it should be kept out of his client's case.
"They stopped them because they were five black guys in an SUV from Minnesota," Gray said after Tuesday's hearing.
During the hearing in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Nevada Highway Patrol Troopers Gary Smith and Neil Ferguson testified that they stopped the vehicle because it was traveling 79 mph in a 75 mph zone. Ferguson, who was driving the squad car, testified he clocked the car's speed with a radar gun, as well as through a technique called "pacing," in which he drove behind the vehicle at the same speed.
Both troopers testified they couldn't discern how many people were in the silver Chevrolet HHR, or the occupants' gender or race, until the car came to a stop. Ferguson said he obtained identification from three people in the car, including Abdow, and that Smith ran background checks on them.
The troopers learned that the car's driver, Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax, was on a terror watch list, but wasn't being sought on any current warrant.
The troopers testified that while the car's occupants raised suspicion - the occupants said they were heading to San Diego for a friend's wedding but they couldn't say who was getting married, where the wedding was being held, or where they were staying - no crimes had been committed so the group was allowed to leave.
No speeding ticket was issued, but Ferguson testified he gave Faarax a verbal warning.
Abdow, who was riding in the front passenger seat, testified Tuesday that the driver was not speeding, and was traveling between 73 and 75 mph.
When asked how he knew, Abdow said they had been using cruise control.
During questioning, Assistant U.S. Attorney W. Anders Folk pointed out that Abdow hadn't been driving, that there was no speedometer on the passenger side, and that Abdow didn't set the cruise control himself. He also said Abdow never told the FBI that the car wasn't speeding. Abdow replied that the question had not been asked.
In an effort to establish Abdow's credibility, Folk began asking whether Abdow lied to the FBI, which is the charge he faces, but Gray advised Abdow to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify against himself.
Folk said none of Abdow's testimony should be considered because he had been unable to determine credibility.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Richard Nelson made no decision on Tuesday.
More than a dozen people appeared in court to support Abdow. At one point, Nelson took a short recess because she said she saw an object being passed between members of the group. Court security checked it out and determined it was a pair of eyeglasses.