Omar was convicted on five counts, two for providing material support to “terrorists” and three conspiracy-related charges. Four of the five counts carry a sentence of up to 15 years in prison, while the fifth count—“conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim, and injure persons abroad”—carries a maximum of life in prison.
To date, 18 men have been hit with “terrorism”-related charges as part of the FBI’s massive “Operation Rhino,” which began in 2007 and has involved the National Security Division of the Justice Department, State Department and the Department of Defense. The ongoing probe is based on an alleged “pipeline” of some 20 al-Shabab recruits from Minneapolis to Somalia.
Prosecutors claim that Omar provided money—up to $2,400—to al-Shabab. The armed Islamist group has been battling against the U.S.-backed Transitional Federal Government and against an invasion by the Ethiopian military. Al-Shabab was designated a foreign terrorist organization in February 2008 by the State Department, which says the group has ties to al-Qaeda.
Somalia has been embroiled in a civil war and without any functioning central government for more than two decades. Both the current transitional government leadership and al-Shabab were previously associated with the Islamic Courts Council, a union of sharia courts that arose following the collapse of the Somali government in 1991. It controlled much of the southern part of the country until late 2006.
According to prosecutors, Omar, 46, who worked as a part-time janitor at the largest mosque here, encouraged and facilitated the recruitment of al-Shabab soldiers from this city, which is home to the largest Somali population in the U.S.
The three-week trial has been marked by extensive testimony of government informers, FBI agents and secret warrants obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Of the 18 men charged so far, seven have entered guilty pleas. Three have agreed to cooperate with the government, including testifying against Omar, as part of plea bargains. During the trial they said the main motivation for returning to Somalia was to oppose the Ethiopian invasion of their country.
Abdifatah Yusuf Isse, one of the government informants, pleaded guilty to a single count of providing material support to terrorists. In exchange for his testimony, the government dropped a charge of conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim and injure, reported the Pioneer Press. Instead of a possible life sentence, he now faces up to 15 years. Salah Osman Ahmed cut a plea bargain deal that reduced his possible sentence from life plus 68 years to 15 years.
Kamal Said Hassan had his potential prison time reduced from life to 38 years. “Hassan became an undercover informant and cut a deal with federal prosecutors,” reported the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “The bargain also got him and his family members a flight home from Yemen at government expense. The FBI put him and his wife up in a four-bedroom suburban home while he worked undercover for about six months. And federal agents took him to dinner, the movies, the YMCA and bowling, and provided him with a computer and Xbox video games.”
The government wiretapped calls after being issued secret warrants from secret judges. Prosecutors presented six calls at the trial; the total number of tapped calls is undisclosed. In an earlier frame-up case of two Somalian women—Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan—over a period of 10 months the FBI wiretapped some 30,000 calls, and carried out searches of the women’s computers, homes and trash.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder visited Minneapolis in May 2011 “to reaffirm his office’s commitment to rooting out those responsible for the recruiting of young Somali-Americans to return to Africa to fight for the terrorist group Al-Shabab,” the Star Tribune said. The same article reported the FBI investigation “stretched from Minnesota to Canada, Europe and Australia.”
Before the trial started in September, the FBI stepped up its investigations of the Somali community, including house visits, and handing out subpoenas to appear before a grand jury. The Council on American-Islamic Relations Minnesota reported a “dramatic uptick” in calls from concerned Somalis about FBI harassment.
“There are still ongoing investigations,” said B. Todd Jones, U.S. Attorney for Minnesota. “This isn’t the end.”
Omar’s attorneys say they will appeal.
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