Minn. Witness Describes Early Al-Shabab Recruiting
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man who spent two months with a terrorist group in his native Somalia told a jury Tuesday that another man on trial for allegedly helping funnel recruits to the group gave money to buy weapons for fighters.
Salah Osman Ahmed testified that while he was staying at an al-Shabab safe house in Merca, Somalia, the defendant, Mahamud Said Omar, was also staying there. He said Omar gave the woman who ran the house about $300 for expenses as well as money to buy AK-47s for two fighters, which he said cost about $500 each.
Omar has pleaded not guilty to five terrorism-related counts and if convicted, could be sentenced to life in prison. He is one of 18 people who have been charged in an ongoing investigation into the travels and recruitment of more than 20 young Somali men who have left Minnesota since 2007 to join al-Shabab’s fight against the U.N.-backed government in Somalia.
Several defendants, including Ahmed, have pleaded guilty in the case, and Omar’s is the first case to go to trial.
On cross examination, Omar’s attorney, Jon Hopeman, noted that Ahmed never saw Omar exchange money with others.
“You never saw him give anybody any money, right?” Hopeman asked. Ahmed replied that he hadn’t.
Prosecutor William Narus asked how Ahmed knew about the money for the weapons. Ahmed replied that when he was at the safe house, the woman in charge told the men from the West they had to buy their own weapons. Omar was in a meeting and said he would buy two guns, and later, the woman told the men she had enough money for the guns, Ahmed testified.
Ahmed also testified that Omar left the house after about five days to go get married, and Ahmed thought Omar would join the group after his wedding. When the group went to another house, Omar didn’t join them there, but an AK-47 arrived with Omar’s name on it. The gun went to another fighter, Ahmed said.
Hopeman asked Ahmed whether Omar ever attended an al-Shabab training camp, ever tried to convince Ahmed to join the group, or ever took orders from al-Shabab. Ahmed testified he did not.
Ahmed has pleaded guilty to one terror-related count and has remained free while awaiting sentencing. He is cooperating with prosecutors in hopes of getting a reduced sentence.
After his testimony, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis dismissed jurors for an afternoon break, then said he would be changing the conditions of Ahmed’s release and putting him back on location monitoring. Davis also said Ahmed must turn in his passport and refrain from trying to get a new one, and he forbade Ahmed from leaving Minnesota with the judge’s permission.
Ahmed’s attorney, Jim Ostgard, asked Davis why he changed the conditions. Davis responded that he “listened to his testimony” and said another judge had the case initially and he wanted to make changes.
“I’m putting electronic monitoring on him so I know where he’s at, unless you would like him taken into custody,” Davis said.
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