A federal grand jury has indicted a group of Somali-Americans on terror-related charges after more than 20 young men from the Minneapolis area were recruited to join an Al Qaeda-linked group in Somalia, according to two law enforcement sources.
The indictments have yet to be unsealed, but an announcement is expected in the next few weeks. One law enforcement source told FOX News the grand jury already has handed up indictments against at least three people.
Among those charged is a man from Minneapolis who went to war-torn Somalia and then, about four months ago, relocated to Seattle, according to the two sources and a leader in the Minneapolis Somali community. The man was then arrested in a Seattle airport and transferred to a jail in Minneapolis, where he is currently being detained, according to the law enforcement sources.
The law enforcement sources said the man, described as in his 20s, has been charged with providing material support to a terrorist group, in this case al-Shabaab, which has been warring with the moderate Somali government since 2006.
Omar Jamal, the executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in St. Paul, Minn., identified the man as 21-year-old Abdifatah Ise. FOX News was unable to independently confirm that. Jamal said the man's family contacted him for "assistance" after the arrest, but he had been unable to speak publicly about it until now "in the interest of" a federal investigation.
For much of the past year the FBI has been looking into how dozens of young, Somali-American men were recruited to train and possibly fight alongside al-Shabaab in anarchy-stricken Somalia. The investigation has centered around Minneapolis, where a grand jury has been hearing testimony from witnesses for several months, but the investigation has also been active in Seattle; Columbus, Ohio; Cincinnati; Boston; and San Diego.
A source told FOX News in March that "several" recruits had returned to the United States, but counterterrorism officials have repeatedly said there is no intelligence indicating that any such recruits are planning attacks within the country.
"[Their] primary focus obviously is not on the homeland, it's abroad," Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said during a briefing with reporters last week. "But any time you have people who are being trained in terrorist-type activities, that's something that needs to be monitored."
Jamal said indictments in the case are a positive step.
"To us that means the investigation is almost over and someone will be held accountable for those missing people," he said. "What we have is human trafficking. Those Somali boys were being trafficked for a war."
According to Osman Ahmed, whose 17-year-old nephew was one of those to go to Somalia late last year, at least a dozen people have testified before the Minneapolis grand jury in the past few weeks alone, including officials from the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in St. Paul.
One law enforcement source said that shows "major progress" in the investigation, since the Abubakar mosque has been a focal point for investigators from the beginning.
Many of the men recruited to join al-Shabaab attended the Abubakar mosque, and several mosque officials, including director Farhan Hurre, could face indictment, one source said.
In addition, a youth volunteer at the mosque, Abia Ali, recently testified before the grand jury, and she is now worried that she could face indictment, according to Ahmed, who said he talked to someone close to Ali. Ahmed said he was told that Ali had been planning to visit family in Africa sometime in the next few weeks, but after testifying to the grand jury authorities told her not to leave the country.
In a recent interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Ali acknowledged that she felt like a target of the FBI investigation, but she denied any involvement in recruiting Somali-Americans to join the fight in Somalia.
"It's very sad," she told Minnesota Public Radio. "It's hurting me so much. I'll be the last person on earth encouraging violence. I'm against violence."
In fact, she said, she tried to prevent two boys from going to Somalia after realizing what they were up to.
Efforts by phone and e-mail to reach Ali were unsuccessful. Similarly, Hurre did not return repeated phone and e-mail messages. But in a statement posted online in March, the Abubakar mosque said suggestions it had any role in the recruitment were "unfair" and untrue.
"Abubakar Center didn't recruit, finance, or otherwise facilitate in any way, shape, or form the travel of those youth," the statement said.
Ahmed and others have long insisted otherwise.
"Like his peers, [my nephew] was never interested in Somali politics," Ahmed said during a Senate hearing on the issue in March. "These kids have no perception of Somalia except the one that was formed in their mind by their teachers at the Abubakar Center. We believe that these children did not travel to Somalia by themselves. There must be others who made them understand that going to Somalia and participating the fighting is the right thing to do."
Not all of those who went to Somalia have returned to the United States. Some are still fighting alongside al-Shabaab, and others have died there.
Ahmed's nephew, Burhan Hassan, was killed in Mogadishu four weeks ago. It's unclear exactly how he died. Ahmed suggested his nephew was killed by members of al-Shabaab. Law enforcement officials said Hassan was likely killed by artillery fire or a stray bullet.
Eight months earlier, in October 2008, 27-year-old college student Shirwa Ahmed of Minneapolis became "the first known American suicide bomber" when he blew himself up in Somalia, killing dozens, according to the FBI.
E.K. Wilson, a spokesman with the FBI Field Office in Minneapolis, declined to comment about the case or any indictments. Officials with FBI headquarters and the Justice Department in Washington also declined to comment.