A 24-year-old local Somali man has been indicted in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis on charges of conspiring to provide support to terrorists.
Omer Abdi Mohamed, an unemployed employment counselor and father of a 2-month-old boy, was indicted on charges of conspiracy to "kill, kidnap, maim or injure" people in foreign countries, according to an indictment filed Tuesday but made public Thursday.
Mohamed, of Minneapolis, is the sixth Somali man with local ties to be charged in connection with a two-year-old federal counterterrorism investigation aimed at finding out who recruited as many as 20 area men of Somali descent to return to their homeland and train and fight with the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab. The probe is considered to be one of the most sweeping international counterterrorism investigations since Sept. 11, 2001.
When asked if investigators allege that Mohamed was a recruiter, Peter Wold, his attorney, said: "In the end, I think you'll see that certainly wasn't the case."
The indictment released Thursday provides few details, but it links Mohamed to a broad conspiracy involving other men who returned to Somalia to fight or train with terrorists, including Shirwa Ahmed, a 26-year-old Minneapolis man believed to be the first U.S. suicide bomber.
According to the indictment, others connected to the conspiracy include: Salah Osman Ahmed, Kamal Said Hassan, Ahmed Ali Omar, Abdifatah Isse and Khalid Mohamud Abshir -- all of whom left the United States in December 2007 with a final destination of Somalia. Ahmed, Hassan and Isse all have pleaded guilty to the same charges Mohamed faces.
Wold said after the hearing Thursday that his client knew the other men through the mosque where they prayed. Isse Hussein, Mohamed's cousin, said Mohamed prayed "a lot" at Abubakar as-Saddique Islamic Center in south Minneapolis.
Officials at the mosque have repeatedly denied any role in recruiting or enabling the men to return to Somalia. Just last week, two mosque officials were cleared to fly after their names had appeared on a federal "no fly" list last year. According to an attorney for one of the men, the move cleared them of any involvement in the Somali men's disappearance.
A Minneapolis woman who described herself as an acquaintance of Mohamed said he was known by the nickname "Galeyr" and was good friends with Salah Ahmed. She said Mohamed also was related to Adarus Abdullah Ali, 25, who admitted in federal court this month to lying to a grand jury about knowing men who went to Somalia to fight.
The woman, who was close friends with Mohamoud Hassan, a local Somali who was killed in Mogadishu in September, said Mohamed and Ahmed and some of the other men who left Minnesota for Somalia often spent time at Abubakar, the largest Somali mosque in the state.
"They are all, like, friends," she said. "They are all very interconnected."
She said she told that to FBI investigators months ago when she was questioned by prosecutors presenting the case to a federal grand jury.
"These people know each other," she said she told them. "They are friends who influence each other."
The woman said she doesn't know for certain why all the men left for Somalia, but said she believes it's rooted in a combination of patriotic feelings toward the Somali homeland and religious fervor.
Judge allows release
Mohamed appeared Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Franklin Noel, who agreed to release him on a $25,000 signature bond after Wold argued that his client was not a risk to flee. As of Thursday night, he was preparing to be released, pending the installation of an electronic home monitoring system.
Wold said his client has known for months that he was the subject of a government investigation. He also said that Mohamed, as a young father, has no incentive to run.
Safiya Esse, Mohamed's wife, said she was surprised Thursday morning when authorities showed up at her home, looking for her husband. "They just come to our house and knocked. We opened the door and they told him to dress up, because he is under arrest," Esse said as she cradled her baby boy inside the courtroom.
Esse's brother, Idiris Esse, said the family is happy Mohamed will be released pending trial.
"We know he is innocent," he said. "This is a guy who grew up here and has no criminal past."
They were among the dozen or so family members and friends who filled Noel's courtroom.
Wold said Mohamed had nothing to do with any conspiracy.
"He relishes the opportunity in this country to be presumed innocent of these charges," he said.
Mohamed's next court appearance is scheduled for 10 a.m. Nov. 24.
Minneapolis has been at the center of the international counterterrorism investigation since the first of up to 20 young Somali men from Minnesota began quietly leaving to return to their homeland. In most cases, the men left without telling their families or friends of their plans.
The focus of the investigation has been uncovering the identities of those who recruited the men and financed their return to Somalia to train and fight.
The men are believed to have been recruited by Al-Shabaab, which has been designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization with links to Al-Qaida.
Since October 2008, five of the Minnesotans who left have died. A sixth man, a Muslim convert from Minneapolis, also is thought to have been killed.
James Walsh • 612-673-7428 Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425 Allie Shah • 612-673-4488