MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A man who left the U.S. to join fighters in Somalia testified Thursday against a Minnesota man on trial for supporting terrorism, saying he saw the man hand $500 in cash to another al-Shabab recruit while they were at a secret meeting to plan their travel.
Abdifatah Yusuf Isse also told jurors he saw Mahamud Said Omar at the cramped safe house where he stayed once he got to Somalia, where he was forced to take a new name and give up his travel documents. He said the purpose of his trip was "to wage jihad" against Ethiopians in Somalia.
Omar, 46, is charged with five terror-related counts in a federal trial that is part of a broader investigation into recruiting by al-Shabab, a U.S.-designated terror group linked to al-Qaida that is at the center of much of the violence in Somalia.
Authorities say that since 2007, more than 20 young men went to the East African nation from Minnesota, home to the largest Somali population in the U.S. At least six of those men have died and others are presumed dead, according to family members and the FBI.
Prosecutors say Omar helped acquire airline tickets and helped pay for weapons. But Omar has maintained his innocence. His attorneys and family members have said he was too poor to finance terrorism, and never acted or spoke against the U.S.
Isse's testimony revealed the most detailed account to date about how the men were recruited and what happened once they arrived in Somalia.
On one occasion, Isse testified, he saw Omar hand $500 in cash to another al-Shabab recruit at a Minneapolis restaurant. Isse said the cash was "pocket money" and said Omar also gave them flashlights.
"He said, 'Good luck on the trip and if you guys need anything, call me,'" Isse testified.
Isse said he knew Omar as the janitor at Abubakar as-Saddique mosque, where Isse spent a lot of time after moving to Minnesota from Seattle in 2007. It was there where he also met other men who would eventually travel to Somalia.
Under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty, Isse testified that someone at the mosque named Farhan began talking to him about going to Somalia for a "jihad" against Ethiopians, which many Somalis viewed as invaders.
The men began making plans to travel — meeting in private rooms at the mosque, or at restaurants and in cars. Three other men, two of whom have been identified as travelers by prosecutors, led the discussions because they knew more about traveling and had contacts in Somalia, Isse said.
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