Reporting Holly Wagner
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — A Minneapolis man helped young Somali expatriates return to the war-torn country they left years ago so they could join a terrorist group fighting the U.N.-backed government there, a prosecutor said Tuesday at the outset of the man’s trial.
Mahamud Said Omar, 46, faces five terror-related counts. Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Kovats said during his opening statements that the case is about a pipeline of men and money between Minnesota and al-Shabab, a U.S.-designated terrorist group linked to al-Qaida that is blamed for much of the violence in Somalia.
Prosecutors told the jury at in U.S District Court in Minneapolis Tuesday that some of the men Omar allegedly helped recruit for al-Shabab will testify against him.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says it has financial, travel and phone records as well as video to prove Omar was recruiting in Minnesota for the terrorist group.
Prosecutors told the jury they’ve identified 18 men they believe Omar helped recruit and travel to Somalia to join al-Shabab in 2007 and 2008, some of them high school students as young as 17 and 18 years old.
The government says Omar paid for it by soliciting donations for orphans at the Cedar Riverside Apartments in Minneapolis and in Eden Prairie.
Omar is also accused of helping to supply weapons to the group.
When he was arrested in the Netherlands, investigators say he admitted to recruiting men for the terrorist organization.
Omar’s defense attorney, Andrew Birrell, said he only admitted to the charges after spending a year and a half in prison in the Netherlands, fearing he would spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Birrell painted Omar as a man originally from Somalia, struggling to find his way in the U.S., not skillfully or financially capable of orchestrating what he’s accused of doing.
The defense also told the jury the men testifying against Omar have reached deals with the government for their testimony.
According the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Omar could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.
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