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Feds link Minneapolis ISIS suspect to al-Shabab

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Guled Omar
Photo of Guled Omar provided April 23, 2015, by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP 2015

Federal prosecutors say a young Minneapolis man facing charges that he plotted to travel to Syria to fight for the terrorist group ISIS also tried to enlist with al-Shabab extremists in Somalia as early as 2012.

The government has long maintained that Guled Omar, now 21, helped lead a group of friends who conspired to take up arms with ISIS. And prosecutors have alluded to Omar's previous ambitions to leave the country for the Horn of Africa, years after his older brother was believed to have joined the ranks of al-Shabab. 

But in a court document filed Monday, prosecutors went further, detailing the steps they say Omar took in an attempt to join al-Shabab four years ago. 

The allegations also suggest the deep connections between some of the Minnesota defendants in today's ISIS cases with the earlier waves of recruits for al-Shabab nearly a decade ago. 

In July 2012, prosecutors say, Omar drove two men — Mohamed Guled "Bashi" Osman and Omar Ali "Khalif" Farah — to the Twin Cities airport, knowing they intended to  join al-Shabab.

Another man, Mahdi Furreh, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents, is planning to testify that he was also in the vehicle — and that both he and Omar knew that the other two men planned to fight for al-Shabab. 

Osman, in particular, was an "inspiration" to the travelers to Syria, including his own brother, Yusuf Jama. That's according to Abdirizak Warsame, another young man who's pleaded guilty to conspiring to join ISIS. Authorities say Jama later traveled to Syria to join ISIS, and family members learned in December 2014 of his death.

Warsame is also expected to testify that before Osman left the United States in 2012, both Omar and another ISIS defendant, Abdirahman Daud, told Warsame that they "each pledged allegiance to [Osman], promising to join him in Somalia soon," prosecutors allege. 

About a month after the two men left for Somalia in 2012, Omar tried to make good on that pledge, prosecutors say. He planned to travel to Nairobi, Kenya, "where he would then be able to cross into Somalia" to join al-Shabab, according to the court document.

But the FBI was waiting for him at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He told agents he was traveling to Kenya to get married and was not allowed to fly out.

Omar's attorney, Glenn Bruder, said Monday that the government investigated the 2012 incident at the time, and prosecutors decided there was insufficient evidence to bring charges. A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney in Minneapolis, Andy Luger, did not return calls for comment. 

"Now they are recycling this story again," said Bruder, adding that he plans to object to prosecutors introducing it as evidence at the ISIS trial for Omar and four others, beginning May 9.

"It'll distract the jury from the central focus of this case, which is not what my client did in 2012, but whether or not in 2014 and 2015 he was attempting to join an entirely different terrorist organization." 

This isn't the first time federal prosecutors outlined allegations about Omar's past activities. They noted in a charging document last year that he packed light for the Nairobi trip — just a gym bag with an iPad, T-shirts, muscle shirts and extra shoes. 

And following his arrest last April with five other men accused of trying to join ISIS, Luger singled out Omar, who he said "never stopped plotting."

Prosecutors contend Omar attempted to leave the country a total of three times to join foreign terrorist groups.

He also allegedly tried to travel to Syria to join ISIS in May 2014, when he was 19. 

According to a friend who became a confidential informant for the FBI, Omar, Yusuf Jama and the informant planned to drive to California and make their way to Syria from there. But after Omar placed his luggage in the rental vehicle, a family member confronted him and the group was forced to abandon their travel plans.

In November 2014, Omar tried to travel from Minneapolis to San Diego but was stopped at the airport and not allowed to board the plane.

In Monday's court filing, prosecutors say Omar admitted his "past efforts to travel overseas to wage jihad." In a secretly recorded conversation last April, he allegedly complained that his numerous attempts to leave the country were giving him a bad image.

Omar, referring to himself in the second person, lamented that he "tried 50 times and it still don't work out for your dumb ass," according to prosecutors. 

Later, he clarified: "Three times, same exact thing."