- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Justice Department on Monday announced terrorism charges against eight people for activities involving an al Qaeda-inspired organization in Somalia — including recruiting, financing and actual fighting.

For the past two years, authorities say, about 20 young men, all but one of whom are of Somali decent, have left their homes in the Minneapolis area to go fight with al-Shabaab, a terrorist group that has pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden. The group is engaged in a civil war against Somalia’s government with the goal of imposing a new regime based on Islam’s strict Shariah law.

“The recruitment of young people from Minneapolis and other U.S. communities to fight for extremists in Somalia has been the focus of intense investigation for many months,” said David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security. “While the charges unsealed today underscore our progress to date, this investigation is ongoing. Those who sign up to fight or recruit for al-Shabaab’s terror network should be aware that they may well end up as defendants in the United States or casualties of the Somali conflict.”

Only one of the people identified Monday is in custody.

Mahamud Said Omar, who was charged in a five-count indictment in August, was arrested in the Netherlands earlier this month, and the U.S. is seeking his extradition. Mr. Omar, a Somali citizen who was granted permanent U.S. resident status in 1994, is accused of providing money to the young men who went from Minneapolis to Somalia.

Two of the other men charged, who are thought to be overseas, are accused of being in contact with al-Shabaab members in Somalia and of encouraging young men in Minneapolis to go wage jihad there.

One of the men, Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax, told young men that jihad in Somalia would be “fun” and that they would get to shoot guns, according to an FBI affidavit.

Mr. Faarax and the other man, Abdiweli Yassin Isse, left the U.S. last month at a Mexican border crossing south of San Diego, according to court records. A state trooper had pulled them over a few days earlier while they were driving in Nevada and contacted the FBI after the two men gave inconsistent answers about how they knew each other and who was getting married at the wedding in San Diego they said was their destination.

The state trooper searched the car and found Mr. Faarax’s passport and $4,000 in cash, but they apparently were let go because there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, according to court records.

Mr. Faarax and Mr. Isse are charged with conspiring to kill, kidnap, maim or injure persons outside the United States.

The other five - Ahmed Ali Omar, Khalid Abshir, Zakaria Maruf, Mohamed Hassan and Mustafa Salat - were charged last summer with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and foreign terrorist organizations; conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim and injure people outside the United States; possessing and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence; and solicitation to commit a crime of violence.

According to authorities, those five went to Somalia to fight with al-Shabaab. The ages of the five men, who are still thought to be overseas, were not immediately available.

Including the eight cases announced Monday, 14 people have been charged in federal court in Minnesota as part of a months-long investigation into al-Shabaab and young men from Minneapolis. Four of the other six have pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

The investigation received greater public focus after news last October emerged that Somali-American Shirwa Ahmed carried out a suicide bombing in his native country. He is thought to be the first American citizen to have carried out such an attack.

“The revelation last year that a Somali-American became radicalized, traveled to Somalia, and carried out a suicide bombing was a wake-up call that violent Islamist radicalization is happening in our country,” said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut independent and the panel’s chairman, said he is “gratified that the FBI is closely tracking the threat of homegrown terrorism, and I look forward to learning how these young Americans were recruited, so that we can protect others from the pernicious spread of violent Islamist extremism.”

Ralph S. Boelter, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, stressed the importance of the Somali community’s cooperation in helping to build cases.

“The sole focus of our efforts in this matter has been the criminal conduct of a small number of mainly Somali-American individuals and not the broader Somali-American community itself, which has consistently expressed deep concern about this pattern of recruitment activity in support of al-Shabaab,” he said.

• Ben Conery can be reached at bconery@washingtontimes.com.

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