Minneapolis man on trial, accused of aiding Somali terrorists
By most measures, Mahamud Said Omar seems an unusual suspect for financing and aiding the terrorist group al-Shabaab. The Minneapolis man usually was flat broke, and his steadiest job was as a janitor making $800 a month. He was in ill health, both physically and mentally.
But perhaps most important, he is of the wrong religion.
Omar is Sufi Muslim. Sufism is a branch of Islam that emphasizes mysticism, and the militant Islamic al-Shabaab so violently opposes Sufism that when it gained control of parts of Omar's native Somalia, it destroyed Sufi mosques and holy sites, killing civilians in the process.
Al-Shabaab even dug up the graves of Sufi clerics -- including Omar's own grandfather, his family says.
Omar, 46, will go on trial in federal court in Minneapolis on Monday, Oct. 1, accused of conspiracy and of helping finance al-Shabaab's war to topple Somalia's U.N.-backed government.
He is among those charged in "Operation Rhino," the FBI's probe into the exodus of young Somalis from the Twin Cities to fight for al-Shabaab.
Of the 18 men charged since February 2009, Omar is the only one to go to trial. Seven have pleaded guilty, eight are fugitives and two are believed dead.
Jurors will be asked to decide if the part-time janitor was a terrorist financier, as the government contends, or an easily duped -- even simple-minded -- follower being scapegoated by others, as his family maintains.
"The FBI wanted to close this case. They don't
have the real person, so they found my brother and wanted to close the case," said Abdullahi Omar of Minneapolis. "What they're saying about him and what we know about him are completely different."
But court documents allege Omar spent time in an al-Shabaab safe house, helped recruit for the group, gave money to would-be jihadists and paid for assault rifles.
Three of the men Omar allegedly aided are expected to testify against him. Each has pleaded guilty of criminal charges and agreed to cooperate with the government and is awaiting sentencing; one has been waiting since February 2009.
Defense attorney Jon Hopeman declined to say what defense he and colleague Andrew Birrell would present but said Omar wants his day in court.
"He maintains his innocence and we're going to go into verbal combat ... and we're going to vindicate him," said Hopeman.