U.S. District Judge Michael Davis sentenced four more men to prison on Tuesday for their roles in support of Al-Shabab, an organization in Somalia labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department.
Three of the men received three-year terms. A fourth was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his leadership role in encouraging other young men from the Twin Cities to go to Somalia and take up arms against the Ethiopian army, which occupied Somalia in 2007.
More than 100 Somali community members, including relatives and friends of the defendants, turned out for the sentencings, conducted in four separate hearings in downtown Minneapolis.
Tuesday’s sentencings brought to six the number of people sent to prison in the case. Two other men were sentenced Monday, and two women will be sentenced Thursday.
Community members have expressed some ambivalence about the prosecutions. They say they are grateful that authorities are shutting down the pipeline of young men aligning themselves with Al-Shabab and dying in Somalia. But they also have expressed unease that the court did not adopt their view that the men were motivated by patriotism and trying to derail an invasion of Somalia by Ethiopian troops.
Help reduced prison time
All four men sentenced Tuesday could have received 15-year terms under sentencing guidelines, but the U.S. attorney’s office recommended that they get less prison time for supplying evidence to further other prosecutions.
U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said the sentences “reflect not only the misguided and insidious nature of their crimes, but also the importance of cooperation and community involvement in prevention potential acts of terrorism.
Omer Abdi Mohamed, 28, identified by authorities as one of the “middlemen” who helped send young men from Minneapolis to Somalia, got the least reduction in his sentence and will serve 12 years in prison.
Prosecutors said he attended meetings to discuss plans to send Minnesotans to Somalia and was involved in fundraising and obtaining plane tickets. They also said he claimed a religious justification for going to Somalia to fight.
Still, about 200 people sent letters to Davis praising Mohamed. Peter Wold, his attorney, said he’ll appeal the sentence. “He was 22 years old; he wasn’t a religious leader,” he said. “He and the other kids felt the Qur’an didn’t prohibit them from defending their homeland.”
Abdifatah Yusuf Isse, 29, who received a three-year sentence, traveled to Somalia in 2007, bought an AK-47, got limited training in fighting and then fled.
“I’m really sorry I went to Somalia,” he told Davis. His attorney, Paul Engh, said he was grateful for the lenient sentence.
Also receiving a three-year term was Salah Osman Ahmed, 30, who traveled to Somalia and trained with firearms before fleeing the country.
His attorney, Jim Ostgard, said Ahmed developed friendly relationships with the FBI and prosecutors while cooperating with them. That was evident after he was sentenced, when he went out of his way to shake their hands.
Ahmed Hussein Mahamud, 28, now of Westerville, Ohio, also got three years. The Eden Prairie High School graduate pleaded guilty in 2012, admitting that he raised up to $1,500 under false pretenses to help send Al-Shabab recruits to Somalia.
“He had a minor role,” said his attorney, Rick Mattox.