Mahdi Ali allegedly told at least one man in the Seward neighborhood that he'd been planning a "mission" to rob Seward Market and Halal Meats, and not only because it always had a lot of cash on hand.
"I remember him saying he looked into it and it's not hot, which means it's not a place with heavy security," Mohamed Galony testified Wednesday at Ali's trial for the murders of three men in the market in January 2010.
Ali believed that a safe under the counter in the south Minneapolis market held at least $10,000, from a money-wiring business for transfers to Africa, another witness testified. He didn't have enough money on Jan. 6, 2010, when he went to the Minneapolis impound lot to find out how much it would cost to retrieve his car, a third person testified.
Ali is accused of six counts of murder in the killing of three men that night during a botched robbery at the market, which is frequented by Somali customers.
The victims were store employee Osman Elmi, 28; his cousin Mohamed Warfa, 30, who had stopped to visit, and customer Anwar Mohammed, 31.
A co-defendant, Ahmed Ali, pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery and is expected to testify against Mahdi Ali, 18. The two are not related.
Wednesday's prosecution witnesses in Hennepin County District Court included Galony, who volunteers with Somali kids and who knew Mahdi Ali from the neighborhood. Galony said that in December 2009 Mahdi Ali, then 17, ran into Galony at Seward Towers and told him of his plan. Two weeks later, Galony heard about the killings of the three men. He immediately called the police.
Earlier in the day, Abdisalan Ali testified that on the day of the killings, Mahdi Ali, a friend of his cousin, Ahmed Ali, picked them up after school. The three drove around Minneapolis, where Abdisalan Ali stole a coat from a store and gave Mahdi Ali his old coat. He later pointed out the jacket as the one worn by a suspect from a surveillance camera image at Seward Market.
"I can't recognize who's wearing the jacket because their face is covered up," he said. "But I gave it to Mahdi."
While driving around, they stopped at the Minneapolis impound lot to see what it would cost to retrieve Mahdi Ali's car, but they didn't have enough money. Not long after, they dropped Abdisalan Ali off. He said he was home for the rest of the night. He was questioned by police later, but his story panned out and he was allowed to go home.
Was witness in on robbery?
Mahdi Ali's attorney Frederick Goetz challenged Abdisalan Ali with a statement by a classmate, Abshir Ase, who told investigators that Abdisalan Ali told him he was involved in the robbery along with Mahdi Ali. Abdisalan Ali denied the allegation.
"Mr. Ali, isn't it true you told Abshir details of the incident that only someone involved with it would know?" Goetz asked.
"No sir," he responded.
Abdisalan Ali said that although he and Ahmed Ali were members of the same clan, or family, Mahdi Ali was not a relative. When pressed, he said he and Mahdi Ali didn't get along on occasion. He added that his older brother had a fight with Abshir Ase before the robbery, which could be a possible explanation for Ase's statement.
'He had a smirk on his face'
A prosecution witness who was in the Carver County Jail with Mahdi Ali not long after he was arrested testified that Ali told him what happened, and that a third unnamed person involved was their getaway driver.
Leandro Garcia, 25, said Ali told him that Seward Market was chosen because it had a safe containing $10,000 to $15,000 in money transfers to Africa at the first of the month.
The plan, Garcia said he was told, would be that the accomplice without the gun would tie up everyone in the store. Things went bad when people in the store didn't believe Mahdi Ali was serious and tried to take his gun. He allegedly told Garcia that he shot one man in the head, got scared and ran away, but then returned to shoot the others.
Garcia said he believed Mahdi Ali was telling the truth. "He had a smirk on his face ... I don't know, he just didn't care."
Goetz accused Garcia of "jumping on someone's case," a term for an inmate using information about another's case for his own advantage. Garcia maintained that he was receiving no benefit from testifying.
Testimony is scheduled to resume Thursday.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921