ROTTERDAM, Netherlands – Lawyers for a Somali man fighting extradition to the U.S. on terrorism charges stemming from a case in Minneapolis argued in a Dutch court Monday he is innocent and should be released.
Mohamud Said Omar, 44, is suspected of providing money to the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab that was used to buy guns. Around 20 youths of Somali descent are believed to have traveled to Somalia from Minnesota since 2007 to help the group, which the U.S. says has ties to al-Qaida.
Omar's lawyers say he never intended to help terrorists.
"In any case Omar denies that he has ever been involved in any way whatsoever with the financing of terrorism," his lawyer Bart Stapert said.
Omar has been held in a high-security Dutch prison since his arrest at the request of the U.S. government in November. He has residency in the U.S. but had been living in a center for would-be asylum seekers in the Netherlands since December 2008, apparently before he was a suspect.
A total of 14 people have been charged in the ongoing U.S. federal investigation into the travels of as many as 20 young men who went to Somalia to fight over a period of two years starting in 2007. They face a variety of accusations from recruiting and raising funds for the trips, to engaging in terrorist acts in Somalia and perjury.
Omar was the only one in the Netherlands.
According to his extradition request, U.S. officials plan to charge Omar with providing or conspiring to provide "material support to a foreign terrorist organization," and "conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim or injure."
Stapert argued that the specific acts Omar is said to have committed — including gathering money in the U.S., taking youths to the airport, and speaking and meeting with people who had been to Somalia — would not be considered crimes in the Netherlands.
Evidence for other alleged acts, such as giving money to al-Shabab in Somalia, is based on statements from U.S. suspects who confessed as part of a plea bargain agreement, Stapert said. He said that testimony was dubious.
Prosecutor Gerda Osterveld said in a brief statement that the U.S. extradition request is valid and must be carried out under the U.S.-Netherlands extradition treaty.
She added that Omar should be kept in prison while his process continues. Judges are to make an initial ruling in the case in two weeks, but Omar's extradition is not likely for many months at the earliest.
Stapert said outside the courtroom his client intends to appeal if the extradition request is granted.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a socialist dictator and then turned on each other, causing chaos in the African nation of 7 million people. Minnesota has the largest population of Somali immigrants of any U.S. state.
Four men have pleaded guilty in Minneapolis to charges ranging from supporting terrorism to perjury and are awaiting sentencing.