MINNEAPOLIS – A Minneapolis man accused of helping send young men through a terrorist pipeline from Minnesota to Somalia was convicted Thursday on all five terrorism-related charges he faced, including one that could land him in prison for life.
The jury returned its verdict against Mahamud Said Omar after deliberating for about eight hours over two days. Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis did not set a sentencing date.
Omar, 46, nodded quietly as an interpreter gave him the bad news. As he was being led from the courtroom, he held up his hands and smiled at his brothers and other supporters of his in the courtroom gallery.
One of his defense attorneys, Jon Hopeman, said outside of court afterward that Omar will appeal the verdict. He said he plans to scrutinize secretly recorded wiretaps of conversations involving Omar that weren't made available to the defense team.
Omar, a mosque janitor, was the first man to stand trial in the government's investigation into what it says was the recruitment of more than 20 men who have left Minnesota since 2007 to join al-Shabab, a U.S.-designated terrorist group linked to al-Qaida that's blamed for much of the violence that has plagued the East African country.
Prosecutors say Omar helped some recruits from Minnesota's Somali community, which is the largest in the U.S., buy plane tickets to Somalia, and gave others $1,000 to buy weapons while they were staying in an al-Shabab safe house.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty told jurors in closing arguments Wednesday that Omar moved the young men as "cannon fodder" through a pipeline to al-Shabab.
The FBI agent overseeing Omar's case, Kiann VanDenover, testified that at one point in questioning, Omar claimed to be a "team leader" for al-Shabab.
Omar has denied ever helping al-Shabab. His attorney, Andrew Birrell, portrayed him as a "frightened, little man" who has struggled to adapt to life in the U.S. and who lacks the skills and know-how to organize anything. Birrell says the government's case is based on the corrupt testimony of al-Shabab recruits who repeatedly lied and who testified only because their plea deals required it.
The trial testimony provided insights into the long-running investigation, including how the young men were recruited and what happened when they got to Somalia to join al-Shabab's fight against the fledgling U.N.-backed government in Somalia, which was backed by troops from neighboring Ethiopia, who were seen by some Somalis as an invading force.
Omar was one of 18 men charged in the Minnesota case. Seven have pleaded guilty, while others are presumed to be out of the country. At least six of the men who traveled to Somalia from Minnesota have died, and others are presumed dead, according to family members and the FBI