A Somali man accused of helping finance fighters for the terror group al-Shabab in Somalia asked a judge on Monday to let him out of jail while he awaits trial, saying he has a "sickness of the devil" in which he sees ghosts and needs a spiritual healer.
Mahamud Said Omar, 46, made the statements during a routine hearing in advance of his trial on terror charges, which starts next week. Omar, who collapsed during a hearing last year, said he is also in pain.
Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis acknowledged that he is aware Omar has a history of seeing ghosts and other problems. But he denied Omar's request, saying the court is making sure he gets the best medical care possible while in custody. He added that Omar's attorneys may submit information on cultural or spiritual healers, and Davis would view their credentials and decide whether they may visit Omar.
Omar has been in custody since 2009, charged as part of the U.S. government's investigation into the recruitment of at least 21 men who authorities believe left Minnesota to join al-Shabab in Somalia, which the U.S. says has ties to al-Qaida. He faces five counts, including providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
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Omar asked to make a statement as his pretrial hearing was nearing an end Monday. Through an interpreter, he said he was not feeling well and asked to be released to his family's house so he could see someone who can "speak to the devil and read Quran," which is Islam's holy book. Omar said his medication is not making him feel better.
"This is kind of like a devil," Omar said through the interpreter. "Even if I pray, I still have pain. When I am sleeping, I wake up with a nightmare."
"Are you seeing ghosts?" Davis asked.
"Yes," Omar said.
Omar said he also feels unsafe in jail, and other inmates say he is with al-Shabab.
"All these things they accuse me of is not something I commit," Omar said. "I never planned to be against the U.S. government."
Davis said he is aware that Omar has trouble sleeping and has had seizures while in custody. But he said Omar never sought treatment before he was jailed, and instead used alcohol, over-the-counter sleeping pills and khat - a dried plant commonly used in East Africa that can give users a high when chewed.
Omar's attorneys won't comment on his private medical records. His brothers said they don't know what illness he has, only that he is innocent and doesn't have the mental capacity to carry out the crimes for which he faces trial. His attorneys do not plan to use mental illness or insanity as a defense.
Jon Hopeman, one of Omar's attorneys, said Omar made a request to see an imam early on, but officials at the Anoka County Jail would not allow the visit because an imam who agreed to visit Omar for free was a distant cousin.
Hopeman also said that during one of his visits with Omar, Omar began having trouble communicating. An interpreter with Hopeman read the Quran and laid his hands on Omar until he was at peace.
"He's been in custody for a long, long time. ... He's taken medications for a long, long time," Hopeman said. "He's not getting better."
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty said Omar's health is of "paramount importance," and if there are issues with medical care in jail they should be addressed. But he argued Omar should stay in custody.
Mohamed Osman, one of Omar's brothers, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that spiritual healing could include using a certain type of incense near Omar's head, or reading the Quran over him.