FBI at Somali terror trial: 'He was flip-flopping'

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 16, 2012 - 8:32 PM

Trial wrapping up for Minneapolis man accused of recruiting fighters for terror group. Jury will hear closing arguments today.

Jurors will hear closing arguments Wednesday morning in the federal trial of a Minneapolis man accused of helping a terrorist organization recruit young Twin Cities men for a holy war in their native Somalia.

Attorneys for Mahamud Said Omar notified Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis that they would not call any witnesses after the government rests its case.

The government's last witness, FBI special agent Kiann Vandenover, told jurors Tuesday federal agents had hoped to recruit the defendant as an informant in November 2009 when they went to Rotterdam to interview him after he was arrested in the Netherlands.

But the defendant told a different story about 18 months later when his attorney invited them back for interviews, Vandenover said.

At first, she said, Mahamud Said Omar described himself as "a team leader" for Al-Shabab, a militant group that sought to impose a severe form of Islamic law across the Horn of Africa. Omar told federal agents that he had traveled to Somalia and stayed in an Al-Shabab "safehouse" with some men from the Twin Cities, Vandenover said. She said Omar identified five recruits and said he had accompanied them to help arrange their trips to Somalia. Omar said he drove a Normandale College student to a bank to withdraw money from his student loan to pay for the trip.

Omar backed down from those statements in a later interview, however.

"He was flip-flopping," Vandenover said.

Omar, 46, of Minneapolis, went on trial Oct. 1 on five charges related to helping a terrorist organization and conspiring to kill and maim people overseas. He is accused of giving money and encouragement to some of the 20 or more Minnesota Somali men who left to fight in Somalia with Al-Shabab, a U.S.-designated terrorist group.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty walked Vandenover through money-transfer records, wiretaps, travel documents and cellphone contacts, as well as some of Omar's own statements.

Andrew Birrell cross-examined Vandenover, focusing on Omar's arrest and imprisonment, possibly laying the groundwork for an argument that Omar would have said anything to win release.

Dutch police arrested Omar in the middle of the night, put a bag over his head and shoved him into a car, where he threw up. Vandenover said Dutch police acted on their own, but she acknowledged that Omar's head was covered for the flight back to the United States -- standard procedure for the team that transported him, she said.

She acknowledged that much of what was known at the time of his arrest came from three cooperating defendants who themselves lied repeatedly to investigators.

Vandenover wrote an e-mail to inform her boss and others after Omar quit talking in 2009. "Some time in jail may change his mind," she said.

Birrell asked her several times what she meant.

"We needed more information about the 2008 travelers [from Minnesota]. I was hoping to get that information from Mr. Omar."

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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