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Omar Jamal, center, a spokesman for the family of defendant Mahamud Said Omar, spoke to the press alongside Omar’s brothers Hussein Sharif, left, and Abdulahi Sharif on Wednesday.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

Jurors watch Somali videos

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH and DAN BROWNING
  • Star Tribune s taff writers
  • October 11, 2012 - 12:21 AM

His face masked by a checkered scarf, the figure in the video seen in a federal courtroom Wednesday ran through the woods, crawled on his belly under barbed wire, trained in martial arts and fired an assault rifle. He faced the camera and issued a call to arms to young Muslims living in the West.

"That's me," said Kamal Said Hassan, a star prosecution witness in the trial of a Minneapolis man accused of helping send more than 20 Minnesota men to fight with terrorists in their native Somalia. "Basically I'm saying to the people abroad, 'Come join us and come fight. Come join us and defend the religion of Allah.'"

Prosecutors played two terrorist propaganda videos with the Minnesota men in them, including Hassan. Hassan led the jurors through a video showing a training camp and a video of a real ambush of Ethiopian soldiers. He said he and other Minnesotans were involved in the ambush.

Mahamud Said Omar is on trial facing five charges related to helping a terrorist organization and conspiring to kill and maim people overseas. He is accused of encouraging and giving money to some of the men who left Minnesota in 2007 and 2008 to fight in Somalia for Al-Shabab, a U.S.-designated terrorist group.

Much of the testimony in the case has been about other men, including Hassan and two other government witnesses who joined Al-Shabab. Hassan, 27, pleaded guilty to making false statements to a federal officer and faces up to nine years in prison. He hopes for a shorter sentence as a result of his cooperation.

Mahamud Omar, a 46-year-old part-time janitor, claims he went to Somalia to get married and doesn't support Al-Shabab. His family defended him Wednesday.

"We believe Omar is pretty much caught in the middle of this mess," said family spokesman Omar Jamal, first secretary of the Somali mission to the United Nations. He said the family is anxious but trusts the jury and the judicial system.

Hassan testified that he was chosen to speak in the video because Al-Shabab leaders wanted the invitation to come from the Minnesota recruits, and Hassan spoke with the best American accent.

"We're not fighting for tribe or dunya [worldly things]. We're simply fighting for the sake of Allah," Hassan says in the video. "I sincerely invite my beloved brothers and sisters to make hijrah [migrate]."

Hassan told jurors he saw the trip as an adventure.

Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis seemed incredulous at Hassan's testimony. He interrupted Assistant U.S. Attorney William Narus several times and demanded to know how Hassan -- who testified that he was not particularly religious and had never handled a gun before he left for Somalia in 2007 -- was persuaded to take part in a holy war.

"This is not like going down to Valleyfair. Who convinced you?" Davis asked. "Tell me how you can make a leap from never picking up a gun to go to Somalia and kill."

Hassan said he'd been hearing about Ethiopian troops raping Somali women and killing his countrymen, and some friends at the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque in Minneapolis persuaded him that it was their duty "as Somalians and Muslims" to go back and fight. "I just felt like we had a connection and we would all go together to Somalia, sir."

He said he also hoped to find his fiancée, whom he couldn't reach by phone in Mogadishu.

More than 100 people were at the camp with Hassan, listening to members of Al-Shabab talk about their goals.

"The goal of Al-Shabab was to take over Somalia and take over other neighboring countries and all the way to Jerusalem," Hassan said.

Hassan said he and three other Minnesota recruits graduated from the training camp in June 2008 and were told they would be taking part in an ambush against Ethiopian soldiers as members of the "mujahideen," or holy warriors. Another Al-Shabab member filmed their mission for a second propaganda video.

Jurors watched the video intently on monitors in front of them. Hassan identified himself in one scene walking behind American fugitive Omar Hammami, a high-ranking Al-Shabab leader from Alabama whose rap lyrics are aimed at recruiting young men in the West. Hassan said he acted as Hammami's gofer briefly because Hammami, who is white, couldn't move around openly without drawing suspicion.

After the ambush, Hassan and his fellow mujahideen returned to the training camp, where they were praised and granted a furlough. Hasssan said he decided not to return.

"I just didn't want to be a part of Al-Shabab anymore," he told jurors.

His escape from Al-Shabab was facilitated by his father in Minneapolis and the FBI. Hassan initially went to see his relatives in Marka, then on to his fiancée's family home in Mogadishu.

Al-Shabab members called his cellphone and demanded to know where he was. Traveling without his passport, Hassan took a freighter to Yemen, where he was met by his mother, a brother and three FBI agents. His fiancée and her sister also had fled to Yemen for their safety.

Hassan said the FBI flew him back to the Twin Cities, where he became an informant. He lived under 24-hour FBI protection in St. Louis Park as he helped them gather evidence, but he's now being held in the Sherburne County jail.

Though he testified for about 6 1/2 hours, Hassan had little to say about Omar, the defendant. He said he never spoke to Omar about the plan to go to Somalia and didn't know if he was involved.

Prosecutors played a wiretap recording Wednesday in which Omar's nickname, "Sharif," came up. An Al-Shabab fighter from Somalia called Hassan and said he'd heard that his parents had been arrested by the FBI. Hassan asks the source of the rumor and the caller names Sharif, "the guy who went to Baardheere" with Shirwa Ahmed -- the first known American suicide bomber, who died in Somalia in 2008.

ashah@startribune.com • 612-673-4488 dbrowning@startribune.com 612-673-4493 See the videos shown at trial at startribune.com

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