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Man gets 10 years in Somali terror investigation

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Al-Shabab recruiting video
Kamal Said Hassan, 27, identified himself as the speaker in a 2008 propaganda video for al-Shabab, viewable on YouTube.com. During the trial last fall, Hassan told jurors that he was imploring people abroad to "come join us and fight with the brothers." Hassan is a star witness in the government's case against Mahamud Said Omar of Minneapolis, who is accused of helping send cash fighters from Minnesota to the terror group. (YouTube.com)
Screen grab via YouTube.com

By AMY FORLITI
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A former foot soldier for al-Shabab was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday as a federal court begins doling out penalties in what has been called one of the largest efforts to recruit U.S. fighters into a foreign terrorist group. 

  Kamal Said Hassan admitted he trained with a group linked to al-Qaida in Somalia and participated in an ambush of Ethiopian troops before returning to the U.S. 

  Prosecutors sought the maximum penalty of 38 years in prison for Hassan, but the judge cited Hassan's cooperation with investigators. After his prison sentence, Hassan will be on supervised release for 20 years.

  Mahamud Said Omar, 47, A man who authorities say played a key role in funneling young men from Minnesota to the terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia is sentenced to 20 years in prison. He also will be on supervised release the rest of his life.

  Omar was convicted last year on five terror-related counts, including one that could have carried a maximum sentence of life in prison. Prosecutors were seeking 50 years.

  Prosecutors alleged Omar used recruits as "cannon fodder" and helped feed them into a pipeline of violence in their homeland. 

  Defense attorneys argued in court documents that Omar was a passive participant. 

  Hassan, 28, is among the more than 20 young men who have left Minnesota since 2007 to join al-Shabab. Minnesota is home to the largest Somali population in the U.S.

  "I helped al-Shabab and I lied to the U.S. government, your honor. I can't take back what I did, but I can show you and my family and the government and the Somali community that I can do better," a tearful Hassan told Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis in Minneapolis.

  Hassan apologized during his 2 {-hour sentencing and said he no longer supports al-Shabab or any similar group.

  But Davis said he is not convinced that Hassan is not still lying. The judge had a recruitment video played in court that shows Hassan urging others to join the cause in Somalia to show that Hassan can be persuasive.  

"I don't know you. The government doesn't know you. Your family doesn't know you," Davis told Hassan.

  Authorities say the conspiracy began in 2007, when small groups of Somali men began holding secret meetings to talk about returning to their homeland to wage jihad against Ethiopians. The Ethiopian army was brought into Somalia in 2006 by its weak U.N.-backed government, but the troops were viewed by many Somalis as invaders.

  During Omar's trial, prosecutors alleged Omar, a janitor at a local mosque, used recruits as "cannon fodder" and helped feed them into a pipeline of violence in their homeland. They said he continued to help travelers with logistics and money even in the days after a Minnesotan carried out a suicide bombing in Somalia in 2008. Prosecutors say most of men who left in that group of travelers have died.  

"The pain, physical and psychological, that the defendant's crimes have causes, both here in Minnesota and in Somalia, is almost incalculable, as is the threat his participation in international terrorism posed to the national security of the United States," prosecutors wrote in documents filed in advance of Omar's sentencing.

  Omar's defense attorneys are seeking a lesser sentence, arguing in court documents that he was a passive participant who didn't know any better and held no power.  

"Mr. Omar was a pawn who, because of his mental disabilities became involved in an organization whose evil was far more advanced than he could comprehend," defense attorney Andrew Birrell wrote.

  Hassan, who was convicted on two terror-related counts and one count of lying to the FBI, has admitted that he went to Somalia to fight against Ethiopians, trained with al-Shabab and left after participating in an ambush of Ethiopian troops.

  Prosecutors argue that 38 years would be appropriate because of the seriousness of his offense, and they think it could deter further acts of terrorism. 

  Hassan's defense attorneys argued for a sentence that would be "sufficient but not longer than necessary." They note Hassan has been in custody since 2009, and has changed greatly from the 22-year-old who joined al-Shabab back in 2007.

  Prosecutors wrote that, to date, neither al-Shabab's designation as a terrorist group nor the prosecutions of men in the U.S. have stemmed the flow of support from Minnesota. 

  "Given the compelling need to deter the continued threat that home-grown terrorists and those that support them pose to the United States and our allies," prosecutors wrote, "a substantial term of imprisonment would send a clear message to any would-be jihadists that such conduct is not tolerated by the U.S. government."