MINNEAPOLIS – An American who traveled to Somalia to train with the terror group al-Shabab testified Thursday against a Minnesota man accused of helping arrange the travel.
Abdifatah Yusuf Isse told jurors that he saw Mahamud Said Omar hand $500 in cash to another al-Shabab recruit and wish him good luck during a meeting at a Minneapolis pizza parlor in 2007. The meeting occurred before Isse and several other men departed for Somalia, said Isse, who said the cash was pocket money.
Isse testified that the pizza parlor meeting came near the end of a string of private meetings at a Minneapolis mosque in which participants discussed traveling to Somalia and waging "jihad" against Ethiopian soldiers seen as invaders of their homeland.
Omar, 46, is charged with five terror-related counts in a federal trial that is part of a broader investigation into recruiting by al-Shabab, a U.S.-designated terror group linked to al-Qaida at the center of much of the violence in Somalia. Prosecutors say Omar helped acquire airline tickets, helped pay for weapons and encouraged men to join.
Since 2007, more than 20 young men are believed to have been wooed to the East African nation from Minnesota, home to the largest Somali population in the U.S. The FBI says at least six have died.
Omar has maintained his innocence. His attorneys and family members have said he was too poor to finance terrorism, and never acted or spoke against the United States.
In the third day of testimony Thursday, Isse, 28, of Seattle, was one of two admitted travelers to take the stand for the prosecution. The other was Salah Osman Ahmed, 28, of New Brighton, Minn.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty questioned Isse about the planning meetings leading up to the 2007 departures. Isse described the private meetings involving several men staying at Abubakar As-Saddique mosque in Minneapolis during the last 10 days of Ramadan
"Did you understand you might get killed?" Docherty asked.
"Yes," Isse replied.
"Did you understand you might kill?" Docherty asked.
"Yes," Isse replied.
The traveler who got $500 from Omar was Ahmed Ali Omar, Isse testified.
During testimony earlier Thursday, prosecutors worked to establish that the travel had occurred, calling FBI agents to testify on travel itineraries, passport applications, routes taken by each man to Somalia, and funding.
FBI Special Agent Karie Gibson detailed travel by four men who departed in 2007: Kamal Said Hassan and Salah Osman Ahmed left Minneapolis on Dec. 6, while Isse and Ahmed Ali Omar left together two days later. The four met up in Dubai, and traveled from there together to Somalia.
Hassan, Ahmed and Isse eventually returned to the United States and were charged. There is no evidence that Ahmed Ali Omar returned to the U.S.
Gibson also testified that three men who left for Somalia in 2008 listed the same mailing address on their passport applications. The post office box on the address was rented by another man who listed as emergency contact a cousin named "Sharif" — matching Omar's frequently used nickname.