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Minn. witness describes early al-Shabab recruiting

Associated Press Modified: October 9, 2012 at 7:31 pm •  Published: October 9, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man who spent two months with a terrorist group in his native Somalia told a jury Tuesday that another man on trial for allegedly helping funnel recruits to the group provided money to buy weapons for fighters.

Salah Osman Ahmed, 29, testified that while he was staying at an al-Shabab safe house in Merca, Somalia, the defendant, Mahamud Said Omar, spent about five days there. He said Omar gave the woman who ran the house about $300 for expenses as well as money to buy AK-47s for two fighters, which he said cost about $500 each. Ahmed said Omar also gave another traveler $500.

Omar, 46, has pleaded not guilty to five terrorism-related counts and if convicted, could be sentenced to life in prison. He is one of 18 people who have been charged in an ongoing investigation into the travels and recruitment of more than 20 young Somali men who have left Minnesota since 2007 to join al-Shabab's fight against the U.N.-backed government in Somalia.

Several defendants, including Ahmed, have pleaded guilty and Omar's is the first case to go to trial. Testimony so far has revealed details about how the network of recruiters worked in Minneapolis, including who might have taken lead roles in recruiting, how travel was arranged, and efforts to keep the plan a secret.

On cross-examination, Omar's attorney, Jon Hopeman, questioned whether Ahmed actually saw Omar give money to others. Ahmed replied he did not.

Prosecutor William Narus asked how Ahmed knew about the money for the weapons. Ahmed said the woman in charge at the safe house told the men from the West they had to buy their own weapons. Omar said he would buy two guns, and later, the woman told the men she had enough money for the guns, Ahmed testified.

Ahmed said Omar also told the Minneapolis guys to stick together, because other people in Somalia should not be trusted.

Ahmed testified Omar left the safe house to get married, and Ahmed thought Omar would join the group after his wedding. When the group went to another house in Baarawe, Omar didn't join them.

Hopeman asked Ahmed whether Omar ever attended an al-Shabab training camp, ever tried to convince Ahmed to join the group, ever took orders from al-Shabab, or drove Ahmed and his friends to the airport when they departed for Somalia. Ahmed testified that Omar did none of those things.

Ahmed has pleaded guilty to one terror-related count and has remained free while awaiting sentencing. He had been in jail for about nine months and is cooperating with prosecutors in hopes of getting a reduced sentence.

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