With a week to go before his trial, Somali terror suspect Mahamud Said Omar asked Monday to be transferred from jail to a relative's house for as much as 90 days so a Somali healer and Muslim imam can dispel his visions of ghosts and stop the pain that induces seizures.
Omar made the personal plea to Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis in Minneapolis, saying Anoka County Sheriff's deputies have placed his life in jeopardy by telling other inmates that he's suspected of supplying material support to Al-Shabab, a U.S.-designated terrorism organization active in Somalia.
Omar, in broken English, said he gets sick at night.
"Other inmates telling me, 'You are Al-Shabab,'" he said. "Police in jail tell all the other inmates. At this moment they are risking my life."
Omar asked to be released to a relative's home or a "safe house" until he can be healed.
"All these things they accuse me, I not committed. I never planned this things against the United States government," he said.
At that point, Andrew Birrell, one of his attorneys, cut him off and whispered to him, an interpreter translating quietly at his side.
Omar then turned to address Davis. "When I get healed, I'll come back to court," he said.
'I don't sleep. I don't play'
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty said Omar's health was of "paramount importance" to the government but argued against releasing him.
Davis said he has reviewed Omar's medical records and said the government is taking all of the necessary steps to ensure that he gets the best medical care.
Omar said he's still in pain and suffers from nightmares.
"Are you seeing ghosts?" Davis asked.
"Yes," he responded. "I don't sleep. I don't play. I don't go to society. Even when I go to your court I still feel pain sometimes. I want you to give me 90 days to get well inside my brother's house. I'm not going nowhere," Omar said. "My life is getting like squeezed everywhere."
Davis asked whether he knew the names of the healers. Omar said no, but his brothers would know some. Two of his brothers listened quietly in the gallery.
Davis asked what the healers might do to help him.
"They speak to the devil and they read the Qur'an," Omar said.
Omar asked if he could sit. When he got to his chair, he slumped forward and placed his head in his hands. Davis asked whether he could understand him. When Omar didn't respond right away, Davis called a brief recess.
Health will be monitored closely
Omar has been charged with providing material support to a terrorist group and conspiracy to kill people outside the country. The charges stem from an FBI investigation into the travels of 20 or more young Somali-American men from Minnesota to Somalia.
The government alleges that Omar helped recruit people to fight and provided money to buy assault rifles. Omar's brothers say he lacks the intelligence to commit such crimes. He was arrested in 2009 at an asylum-seekers' center in the Netherlands and extradited to the United States two years later. When he appeared in court in August 2011, he collapsed as the proceedings began.
After the recess, Davis said that when Omar was free and living with relatives, he didn't seek out traditional healers but treated himself with alcohol, the narcotic khat and over-the-counter sleeping pills.
Davis said that he, the U.S. Marshal's office and jail staff would continue to closely monitor Omar's health.
"I've been aware of your history of seeing ghosts and spirits and it has been difficult for you to sleep at night because of that. ... The court is aware that you have had other seizures while you were in custody, and you are now taking your medicine.
"As to your request to have your cultural spiritual men assist you to help you get rid of the devil, the court is going to deny that," Davis said.
The trial is scheduled to begin Monday and could last several weeks or longer, depending on Omar's health.
Dan Browning 612-673-4493