Somali Defendant Collapses; Court Hearing On Hold
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A U.S. court hearing for a Somali man accused of helping finance fighters for the terror group al-Shabab came to an abrupt end Friday when he collapsed in court and had to be taken to the hospital by paramedics.
It was not immediately clear why Mohamud Said Omar, 45, collapsed. He regained consciousness, but Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis suspended proceedings so Omar could get medical care.
“For a variety of reasons I am personally gravely concerned for him,” his attorney, Matt Forsgren, said after the hearing. He added his client has had similar episodes while imprisoned in the Netherlands, though he declined to elaborate.
Omar, whose first name is spelled Mahamud in court documents, is charged as part of the U.S. government’s investigation into the recruitment of at least 21 men who authorities believe left Minnesota to join al-Shabab in Somalia. He’s been indicted on five counts, including providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
He’s been in custody in the Netherlands since 2009 and was recently extradited to Minnesota. He was in court Friday for a detention hearing.
Court documents filed by prosecutors suggest Omar helped with recruiting and was involved with travelers who left in 2007 and 2008. They allege he gave money to some of the men who left for Somalia in 2007, that he provided funding for assault rifles and an al-Shabab safehouse while in Somalia in 2008 and that he hosted a gathering for some of travelers in Minnesota, days before they left.
His family has said he’s innocent and doesn’t have the mental or intellectual capacity to be a terrorist. They’ve described him as timid and someone who could be easily influenced.
“This guy, he’s sick, sick, sick, and he needs a lot of help,” his brother, Mohamed Osman, said Friday.
Omar Jamal, a longtime advocate for Somalis in Minnesota and the first secretary for the Somali mission to the United Nations, also believes Omar is innocent.
“I know him, and I know he is not what the government is saying. … He’s not as big a fish as what the government would like to believe,” Jamal said.
“He is not a terrorist,” he said.
Jamal said he trusts in the justice system, and he has urged members of Somali community to work with lawyers to prove Omar’s innocence.
Before Omar’s collapse Friday, attorneys were discussing the issue of an interpreter. The defense says Omar doesn’t understand the court’s official Somali interpreter because Omar speaks Maay Maay, a different dialect. Forsgren is asking the court for permission to use another interpreter who speaks that dialect.
That issue, and the issue of whether Omar will remain in custody as the case proceeds, will be taken up at a later date.
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