MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man pleaded guilty Monday to a terror charge for helping Somali men travel to their homeland to take up arms with the terror group al-Shabab, averting what would have been the first trial in a long-running federal investigation.
Omer Abdi Mohamed, 26, of St. Anthony pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, specifically admitting that he helped provide people in a conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people in a foreign country. Prosecutors said he faces up to 15 years in prison and supervised release for the rest of his life when he is sentenced at a later date.
Mohamed entered his plea the day before he was to face trial on six counts. Mohamed didn't travel to Somalia, but admitted that he attended secret meetings and helped recruits get airline tickets.
At least 21 Somalis are believed to have traveled to Somalia to join the terror group al-Shabab in what began as a push to expel Ethiopian soldiers seen as invaders. At least four Minnesota men have died— two by suicide bombings. In the U.S., an investigation centered in Minneapolis continues, with an 18th person charged just last month.
Previous plea bargains have kept evidence in the investigation mostly under wraps, and Mohamed's trial had the potential to reveal more about the recruiting than has been known before.
Mohamed's attorney, Peter Wold, said Mohamed chose to plead guilty because he has a young son and another child on the way, and faced the possibility of a much longer sentence if convicted. Wold described his client as someone who was motivated by patriotic feeling and didn't know at the time of his actions what al-Shabab was about, and now opposes al-Shabab.
"He was only involved in a mission to go protect Somalia," Wold said, adding that Mohamed later encouraged some of the travelers to return home.
Charles Kovats, an assistant U.S. attorney, declined to comment for the prosecution.
According to prosecutors, in late 2007 Mohamed and others conspired to raise money to send men to Somalia to violently oust Ethiopian troops that had been called in by the transitional government to fight radical groups. They held meetings at mosques and restaurants, and took measures to keep things secretive.
Mohamed and the others went to malls and apartments, falsely telling members of the Somali community they were raising money to build a mosque or help relief efforts in Somalia, prosecutors said. The money actually went to the recruits, who planned to join one group member's relative — a senior member of al-Shabab — in Somalia.
Prosecutors said Mohamed used a contact at a local travel agency to get airline tickets. Mohamed admitted in court that he also helped one traveler obtain a false itinerary to mislead his family.