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Charges against 8 in missing Somali case unsealed

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Omer Abdi Mohamed
Omer Abdi Mohamed, shown here in his high school yearbook picture, has been indicted on charges that he helped six Minnesota men travel to their native Somalia to fight with an extremist group in late 2007.
Courtesy Roosevelt high school

Court documents unsealed Monday named eight individuals allegedly involved in a plan to send men to fight in Somalia, marking a significant development in the government's massive Minnesota-based counterterrorism case.

The documents provide the most complete picture thus far in the roughly yearlong investigation into the alleged recruitment and motivations behind the departures of about 20 alleged fighters from Minnesota.

Authorities believe they went to train or fight along with the violent insurgent group al-Shabaab, which the U.S. declared a terrorist organization in February 2008.

According to the charging documents, the offenses include providing financial support to those who traveled to Somalia to fight on behalf of al-Shabaab, attending terrorist training camps operated by al-Shabaab, and fighting on behalf of the organization.

"We hope that our combined law enforcement efforts send a strong message to those tempted to provide financial support or personnel to any individual or group involved in terrorist activities in foreign countries," said U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said at a news conference Monday. "The message that they should hear, loud and clear, is that we will seek you out and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."

In all, 14 people with Twin Cities ties face federal charges, ranging from perjury to providing material support to terrorists.

Mahamud Said Omar
Mohamud Said Omar, 43, seen here in a family photo in front of his former Minneapolis apartment complex, was arrested in the Netherlands. He is accused of bankrolling the purchase of weapons for Islamic extremists and helping others travel to Somalia in 2007 and 2008, but Omar's family says he was too poor to finance terrorists and was not an extremist.
Photo courtesy Abdullahi Said Omar

"The recruitment of young people from Minneapolis and other U.S. communities to fight for extremists in Somalia has been the focus of intense investigation for many months," Assistant Attorney General David Kris said. "While the charges unsealed today underscore our progress to date, this investigation is ongoing."

"Those who sign up to fight or recruit for al-Shabaab's terror network should be aware that they may well end up as defendants in the United States, or casualties of the Somali conflict."

Last week, the FBI hinted that the arrest of a St. Anthony man was a "significant step" in the investigation. Omer Abdi Mohamed, 24, was indicted Tuesday on charges that he helped send six of the young fighters to Somalia.

One of the eight named Monday is Mohamud Said Omar, who is currently being held in the Netherlands. According to documents released today, Omar allegedly provided money to young men to travel from Minneapolis to Somalia to train with and fight for al-Shabaab. Omar also allegedly visited an al-Shabaab safehouse, and provided hundreds of dollars to fund the purchase of AK-47 rifles for men from Minneapolis.

Another one of the court documents unsealed today alleges that Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax, one of the men charged, and others met at a Minneapolis mosque in the fall of 2007, to telephone co-conspirators in Somalia to discuss the need for Minnesota fighters to travel to the war-torn country to fight the Ethiopian military.

The affidavit also alleges that later that fall, Faarax attended a meeting with co-conspirators at a Minneapolis residence, where he encouraged others to travel to Somalia to fight and told them how he had experienced true brotherhood while fighting a jihad in Somalia, according to a statement released Monday by the Department of Justice.

U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones
U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones and FBI officials announced Monday the unsealing of charges against eight men in connection with the disappearances of young Somali men from Minnesota.
MPR Photo/Jess Mador

Faarax was interviewed three times by authorities, and denied fighting or knowing anyone who had fought in Somalia, according to the statement.

In Monday's press conference, officials from the U.S. Attorney's office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to name the mosque where the alleged phone conversation took place.

The unsealed documents also name Abdiweli Yassin Isse. A criminal complaint alleges that Isse met with co-conspirators to discuss his own plans to fight jihad against the Ethiopian military. The complaint also alleges that Isse raised money to buy airplane tickets for others to travel to Somalia to engage in combat.

The complaint says that Isse allegedly misled community members, telling them they were contributing money to send young men to Saudi Arabia to study the Koran.

The Department of Justice says that Isse and Faarax are believed to be outside of the United States.

The five other men charged include: Ahmed Ali Omar, Khalid Mohamud Abshir, Zakaria Maruf, Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan and Mustafa Ali Salat. Authorities say they believe that all five men are not currently in the United States.

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Friends of some of the missing men have said in interviews they believe some of the fighters were motivated by a nationalistic response following the Ethiopian occupation of Somalia that began in 2006. But other local Somali community members say religious extremism was clearly at play, evidenced by a suicide bombing carried out last fall in Somalia by Shirwa Ahmed of Minneapolis.

Since the first wave of men left Minnesota for Somalia in 2007, at least six have died in the embattled East African country, according to interviews with family and friends. Five were of Somali descent, and one was a Muslim convert.

Ralph S. Boelter, special agent in charge of the FBI's Minneapolis division, said he believes the case has "reached, and indeed passed, a tipping point of sorts in this matter."

"Let me be clear that the conduct of Somali American individuals charged in this case in no way, in my estimation, reflects the values or the beliefs of the greater Somali American community, which is comprised of law-abiding, hard-working Americans who want nothing more than to pursue their American dream and provide for the safety and well being of their families," Boelter added.

Developments in the case have trickled out over the past few months. Three men who were part of the initial wave of fighters to travel to Somalia -- Abdifatah Yusuf Isse, Salah Osman Ahmed and Kamal Said Hassan -- returned to Minnesota and have pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges.

A fourth man has pleaded guilty to lying to a federal grand jury, and a fifth has pleaded not guilty to lying to federal agents.

The U.S. government believes Somalia could become a haven for global terrorism if the threat of radical Islam in the traditionally moderate Muslim country goes unchecked.

Al-Shabaab and other insurgent groups are trying to oust Somalia's weak government. Somalia has not had a functioning central government since 1991, following the ouster of a socialist dictator.

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Follow the link to see a timeline of the missing Somali men.