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Mother of slain man left court after testifying about phone call from Somalia.

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

Emotional mom of slain Somali man says son just vanished

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH and DAN BROWNING
  • Star Tribune s taff w riters
  • October 4, 2012 - 6:30 AM

Abayte Ahmed's head jerked as prosecutors showed her a photo of her son with a bullet hole in his temple.

Testifying Wednesday in the federal trial of a Minneapolis man accused of helping her son and other men travel to their native Somalia to fight for a terrorist group, she wept as she remembered the last time she saw her 19-year-old son.

Jamal Aweys Sheikh Bana left the family home for morning prayers on Nov. 3, 2008, Ahmed said. "So he just disappeared, is that right?" Assistant U.S. Attorney LeAnn Bell asked.

"Yeah," Ahmed answered softly, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.

Mahamud Said Omar, 46, the man accused of helping Sheikh Bana travel to Somalia, faces five charges related to helping a terrorist organization and conspiring to kill and maim people overseas. Prosecutors say he was part of a secret pipeline to send money and men from Minnesota to Somalia to train and fight with Al-Shabab, an insurgent group in Somalia that was designated a terrorist group in February 2008 by the U.S. government. Omar's lawyers say he lacked the money and skills to help organize such a terrorist pipeline.

More than 20 Twin Cities men, including Ahmed's son, left to fight with the group over a two-year span, and 18 people have been charged as part of the years-long FBI counterterrorism investigation.

Speaking through an interpreter, Abayte Ahmed told jurors that her son left Somalia when he was a baby, emigrating to the United States with his family in 1996, and had not returned until he went missing. His primary language was English, she said, and he spoke "a little bit" of Somali.

At the time that he left, she said, he was going to Minneapolis Community and Technical College and Normandale College and working part-time as a security officer in public housing. He would not have had the $1,000 needed to purchase a ticket to Somalia, she said.

Her son usually would leave the house around 5 a.m. to pray, Ahmed said, then would come back and go to school. "That day when he left, he didn't come back and that was the last time I saw him," she said, biting her lower lip and wiping her eyes.

She said she started to worry when he didn't return home that night.

"That evening I needed to get ahold of him. I began calling him. I kept calling him late into the evening," Ahmed said.

He didn't pick up and the next day she reported to police that he was missing.

About eight days after he left, she received a call in the middle of the night, she said, and it was Jamal. "He said, 'Mom, it's Jamal speaking. I'm in Somalia.' All I was asking was when are you going to come home?" Ahmed said.

He told her: 'Mom, I will call you back at a later time. I don't have time. Please say hi to Dad as well as to the other siblings,'" Ahmed said. She said she heard commotion in the background and that it was a very brief conversation.

"I tried to talk to him about -- the mothers who had children missing -- we agreed to ask about the other children. I tried to inquire about the other children," she said. "He said they, too, are on the line and they will make contact with their parents."

Ahmed said she did not hear from her son again.

In July 2009, Jamal's father saw a picture of their son on the Internet. Ahmed said she looked at it, too.

Bell then walked over to Ahmed and showed her the image of a young man. Ahmed looked at it briefly before jerking her head away. "Yes, that was him," she said, covering her face as she wept. Jurors watched the monitors in front of them as prosecutors quickly displayed photos of his bloodied body.

The night before Sheikh Bana disappeared, he told her he was going to meet a male friend for dinner, she said, but he did not say who it was nor did he give any details about the meeting.

Under cross examination by defense attorney Andrew Birrell, Ahmed said she had never spoken to Omar nor had she seen him in person before that day in court.

Ahmed was one of three relatives of the Minnesota Somali recruits who testified.

Hibo Ahmed, the sister of Shirwa Ahmed -- whom U.S. officials say is the first known American suicide bomber in Somalia -- said he told her he was going to Medina, Saudi Arabia, to study when he left the Twin Cities at the end of 2007. He had sold his car and she passed along $500 to him from his brother.

Close to a year later she got a call from him and he didn't sound right, she said. "So I asked him what was going on. He said it was morning where he was at and he just woke up." Shortly after that she received a call from a stranger.

"I was told that Shirwa had died," she recalled. "He said he died in a martyr operation."

Ahmed called the man later and he told her he was in Somalia.

"I said, my brother is not in Somalia. What are you talking about?"

The caller told her he did not know where her brother had died, that people are assigned tasks and such information isn't shared.

"I began to cry at that point," she said.

Yonis Abdi testified about his youngest brother, Abdikadir Ali Abdi, who was just 17 when he left for Somalia in November 2008. The Hopkins High School graduate hasn't been heard from since and is considered a fugitive.

Abdi said he still has his brother's passport.

Prosecutors then displayed an expedited passport application his brother reportedly filed shortly before his departure. It listed an address on Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis, and an emergency contact named "Sharif," identified as a cousin. Abdi said the addresses on the application were unknown to him, and he didn't have a cousin named Sharif.

Investigative documents filed in the case say that Omar, the defendant, is also known as "Omar Sharif."

On Thursday, two men who traveled to Somalia and have pleaded guilty in the case are expected to testify: Abdifatah Yusuf Isse and Salah Osman Ahmed.

ashah@startribune.com • 612-673-4488 dbrowning@startribune.com * 612-673-4493#

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