FBI announces charges against al-Shabaab recruiters

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 23, 2009; 6:17 PM

The FBI and Justice Department announced charges Monday against eight people, the latest effort by the U.S. government to dismantle a terror recruitment ring that has sent dozens of Somali American youths to join an extremist Islamic insurgency in Somalia, officials said.

The charges, announced in Minneapolis, include providing financial support to those who sought to fight with al-Shabaab, or "The Youth," which the State Department listed as a terror group in early 2008. They also include attending terrorist training camps operated by al-Shabaab; and fighting on behalf of the group.

U.S. authorities said they are seeking extradition from the Netherlands of one man, Mahamud Said Omar, a U.S. permanent resident arrested Nov. 8. He faces five terror-related charges related to his support for al-Shabaab, designated by the State Department to be a terror group. Federal officials allege that Omar funded youths to travel to Somalia to train and fight, paid for AK-47 rifles and visited an al-Shabaab safe house.

At least five others charged have left the United States, including two who may have fled through San Diego as recently as last month, officials said.

The government action follows a year-long FBI investigation into the departure of dozens of Muslim teenagers from Minneapolis, Seattle, Columbus, Ohio and other areas to join al-Shabaab. The group subsequently pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and has sent U.S. recruits for training by al-Qaeda operatives, U.S. officials have said.

According to court documents, about 20 men -- all but one of them of Somali descent -- left the Minneapolis area between September 2007 and October 2009 to train with Shabaab Somalia. Many fought against Ethiopian forces, African Union troops and the weak but internationally-supported Transitional Federal Government, U.S. officials alleged.

"The recruitment of young people from Minneapolis and other U.S. communities to fight for extremists in Somalia has been the focus of intense investigation for many months," David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement. "While the charges unsealed today underscore our progress to date, this investigation is ongoing. Those who sign up to fight or recruit for al-Shabaab's terror network should be aware that they may well end up as defendants in the United States or casualties of the Somali conflict."

American officials praised cooperation from Minnesota's Somali Americans, and thanked those who have supported the investigation into Shabaab.

"The sole focus of our efforts in this matter has been the criminal conduct of a small number of mainly Somali American individuals and not the broader Somali American community itself, which has consistently expressed deep concern about this pattern of recruitment activity in support of al-Shabaab," said Ralph S. Boelter, special agent in charge of the FBI's Minneapolis field office.

"The sad reality is that the vibrant Somali community here in Minneapolis has lost many of its sons to fighting in Somalia," said U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones. "These young men have been recruited to fight in a foreign war by individuals and groups using violence against government troops and civilians."

The FBI has previously confirmed the death of Shirwa Ahmed, 27, a college student from Minneapolis, in an October 2008 suicide bombing in Somalia. Since then, U.S. relatives have reported the deaths of five other young American men in Somalia who left the country since 2007 under mysterious circumstances.

The Justice Department had disclosed the arrests of another half-dozen suspects on terror-related charges this year, several of whom have pleaded guilty and cooperated with investigators upon returning to the United States regarding their training in Somalia and Yemen.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company