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Federal judge to rule on terror suspect's translator

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH
  • Star Tribune
  • September 16, 2011 - 8:53 PM

A former Minneapolis man accused of moving men and guns to support a terrorist group in Somalia is asking a federal judge for a new translator.

Attorneys for Mahamud Said Omar argued Friday that the court-appointed interpreter speaks a Somali dialect that Omar doesn't fully understand.

The interpreter speaks Af-Mahaa, a dialect spoken by most Somalis living in the Twin Cities. Omar, who grew up in southern Somalia, speaks a different dialect known as Af-Maay, his attorneys said during a federal court hearing in Minneapolis.

Prosecutors played several snippets of recorded phone conversations they say are of Omar and an unidentified man discussing travel plans and logistics. The recordings, along with testimony from an Af-Mahaa-speaking translator who spoke with Omar at length, show that Omar is "perfectly fluent in Af-Mahaa," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty.

U.S. Chief Judge Michael J. Davis took the matter into advisement and said he will rule as soon as possible.

Omar was extradited from the Netherlands earlier this year to face charges stemming from one of the most high-profile counterterrorism probes since the 9/11 attacks. The 45-year-old has been charged with providing material support to a known terrorist group and conspiracy to kill people outside the country.

For several years, the FBI in Minneapolis has been investigating the travels of 20 or more young Somali-American men from Minnesota to Somalia. Authorities believe they were recruited to fight for Al-Shabab, a rebel group in Somalia designated by U.S. officials as a terrorist organization and linked to Al-Qaida.

Court documents say Omar was a facilitator or recruiter who helped move people to fight and money to buy assault rifles. But Omar's brothers say he lacks the education and intelligence to have committed such crimes, much less be a leader in a terrorism operation.

At the request of U.S. authorities, Dutch police arrested Omar in 2009. He was staying at an asylum-seekers' center in the Netherlands.

His Dutch attorney argued that during the time Omar is accused of assisting Al-Shabab, the group was fighting a "legitimate struggle" against Ethiopian forces in Somalia. Omar never intended to help terrorists, the lawyer said. Nevertheless, the Dutch Supreme Court rejected his appeal, ending Omar's two-year fight against extradition.

The last time Omar appeared in court, he collapsed as the proceedings began.

For a moment during Friday's hearing, it seemed as if Omar might collapse again. He gasped loudly and held his head in his hands after seeing his eldest brother, who is blind, being escorted to the witness stand. The judge ordered a short recess before continuing with the hearing.

Omar's next court appearance will be Oct. 17.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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