A jury on Thursday convicted a Minneapolis man of helping local men, including two former University of Minnesota students who are now presumed dead, travel to Somalia to fight with terrorist group al-Shabab.
Mahamud Said Omar, 46, was found guilty of supporting the group by providing both members and money and of conspiring to kidnap, maim or kill overseas. Omar has yet to be sentenced but faces up to life in prison.
Over nine days, the public got a look at the FBI’s massive investigation into the exodus of at least 20 men from Minneapolis to Somalia between October 2007 and November 2008. They left to join al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab and fight against what they saw as invading Ethiopian troops in their home country.
One of the former University students, civil engineering junior Mohamoud Ali Hassan, reportedly died in Mogadishu in September 2009.
The other, chemical engineering student Abdisalan Hussein Ali, reportedly killed himself and at least 10 others in a October 2011 suicide bombing in
Ali left days after Hassan. According to a Minneapolis police report, Ali’s cousin and mother reported him missing after he left to pray and go to school but didn’t return.
“For an unknown reason the family thinks [Ali] may have got on a plane and went somewhere,” according to the report.
The government built its case with telephone records showing contact between Omar and six men who left the U.S. for Somalia in November 2008.
To date, approximately 18 individuals have been indicted in the investigation, but Omar is the only to go to trial, which made public the FBI’s tactics and
The defense said Omar was a “little man” without the means to organize and fund such a large-scale effort. Omar’s defense attorneys told The Associated Press he plans to appeal the verdict.
The jurors, eight women and four men, deliberated for a couple hours Wednesday after closing statements and came to a unanimous guilty verdict Thursday afternoon. Altogether, they deliberated for less than 10 hours.
The courtroom was full for the reading of the verdict. Omar appeared as he had throughout the trial: calm and in a plain black suit over a white button-down shirt.
After Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis thanked and dismissed jurors, U.S. marshals escorted Omar back into custody.
He smiled and stretched up his arms to wave at his family, who filled the back benches on his side of the courtroom.
“The jury has spoken,” Somali community activist Sadik Warfa said after the verdict. “I have faith in the American justice system. … The government proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Now, Warfa said, “we have to move on.”
In an FBI statement after the verdict, officials lauded the work of many law enforcement authorities in the investigation.
“While we applaud today’s verdict, we must not forget about the families that continue to mourn the loss of their sons” due to al-Shabab, B. Todd Jones, U.S. attorney for the district of Minnesota, said in the statement.
Omar Jamal, a representative from the United Nations who attended the trial with Omar’s family, said the family is “quite shocked” at the verdict because they expected jurors to find Omar not guilty.
Omar’s three brothers, their wives and other extended family attended throughout the three-week trial, Jamal said.
The family is devastated and “not saying much” right now, he said.
“I think there are more people out there, the leaders of these people, who are responsible [for] taking those kids into harm’s way, sending them back to Somalia,” Jamal said.
The investigation is ongoing.
Another former University electrical engineering student, Omar Farah, left Minneapolis earlier this fall to join al-Shabab, a family spokesman told the AP.
Jones, the U.S. attorney, told the AP after the verdict that the government is taking such reports “very seriously.”