Alleged Somali terrorist financier is identified

  • Article by: JAMES WALSH , a nd RICHARD MERYHEW
  • Updated: November 13, 2009 - 10:56 AM

Sources in the Twin Cities and the Netherlands confirmed the identity of the man jailed overseas as a former Minneapolis resident, Mohamud Said Omar, 43.

A Somali man from Minneapolis being held in a Dutch jail on suspicion of bankrolling terrorist activities has been identified by sources in the Twin Cities Somali community as Mohamud Said Omar, 43.

Government officials in Amsterdam and federal authorities in Minneapolis would not confirm the identity of the man being held in the Netherlands. But several sources there and here say Omar, who is known by the nickname "Shariif," is the man in custody.

Dutch authorities said in a statement that U.S. prosecutors suspect the man of bankrolling the purchase of weapons for Islamic extremists and helping other Somalis to travel to Somalia to fight in 2007 and 2008. Special Agent E.K. Wilson of the FBI's Minneapolis office also would not confirm that Omar is the man being held, but acknowledged that the arrest is related to the ongoing counterterrorism investigation that began here when young Somali men began disappearing in 2007.

Details of Omar's life and activities in the Twin Cities are sketchy. Several Somali sources said they believe he may have lived in Minneapolis' Cedar-Riverside apartment complex, home to thousands of Somali refugees. They also said a cousin of his lives in Minneapolis. But more about him was not immediately known.

Abdirizak Bihi, whose teenage nephew, Burhan Hassan, left Minneapolis last November for Somalia only to be killed there in June, said he learned from friends in the Netherlands that Omar went by the nickname "Shariif."

Omar was arrested Sunday at the Dronten asylum seekers center northeast of Amsterdam at the request of U.S. officials. He was alone and arrested without incident, Dutch authorities told the Star Tribune.

He had been staying at the center, a fenced complex of bungalow-style buildings, since he asked the Dutch government to grant him asylum Dec. 25, 2008. Authorities said he first arrived in the Netherlands a month earlier.

It is not clear why Omar, who is not a U.S. citizen but does have a green card allowing him to live and work in America, was seeking asylum.

A call to his asylum attorney in the Netherlands was not returned Thursday.

But in an interview with Janny Groen, a reporter for the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, attorney Audrey Kessels said Omar went to Amsterdam because he could not find work in Minneapolis. He told the lawyer that in January 2008 he left Minneapolis for three months, staying in Somalia, Djibouti and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

He also told her that he had married in Somalia and returned to Minneapolis, Kessels told Groen.

Omar arrived in the Netherlands in late 2008, after several Somali men and teens from Minneapolis quietly slipped away from their homes to train and fight in Somalia.

An official in the Netherlands said Thursday that authorities within the past month denied his asylum request. Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor's office in the Netherlands, said U.S. officials had asked in September that the man be arrested. He said he could provide no additional details about his time in the Netherlands, what brought him there or why U.S. authorities wanted him.

Officials with AIVD, the Netherlands intelligence service, would not comment on their role other than to say they gave information about the man to Dutch police.

A judge in the Netherlands on Tuesday ordered Omar held for 60 days. U.S. officials are expected to push for his extradition, which could take more than a year if he fights it.

Omar's arrest appears to be the most significant development so far in one of the most far-reaching counterterrorism investigations since 9/11. At the heart of the case is finding out who recruited, indoctrinated, and financed the travel of up to 20 young Minnesotans of Somali descent to their homeland to train and fight for Al-Shabab, which has been designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization with ties to Al-Qaida.

Cleared to fly

As word of Omar's arrest circulated through the local Somali community Thursday, an attorney familiar with the federal investigation said that a second official with the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in Minneapolis has learned that he has been cleared to fly.

Abdulahi Farah is the youth director at the Somali mosque, the largest in Minnesota, where many of the missing men socialized. He and the spiritual leader of the center, Sheikh Abdirahman Ahmad, were prohibited from boarding a flight to Saudi Arabia as part of a spiritual pilgrimage last year. Federal officials wouldn't confirm at the time that the men were on a "no fly" list or say why they might have been kept from boarding. Mahir Sherif, an attorney representing Ahmad, said at that time that he thought it was because rumors linked them to the Somali men's disappearance.

Sherif said earlier this week that Ahmad had been cleared to fly and boarded a domestic flight on Tuesday.

FBI agent Wilson wouldn't comment about the list or whether Ahmad or Farah had been taken off any list. But Sherif said Thursday that Farah's name had to have been removed because he was able to buy a ticket for a flight to Chicago and successfully made it to a departure gate Thursday. Sherif said Farah arrived at the gate too late, however, to catch his flight.

jwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-7428 richm@startribune.com • 612-673-4425

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