A Minnesota man hosted a gathering for several young Somalis days before they left Minneapolis to fight with a terrorist group in their war-torn homeland, according to court documents unsealed Tuesday in a sweeping federal investigation.
Mohamud Said Omar, 43, who is in custody in the Netherlands, is accused of being involved with many of the roughly 20 young men who left Minneapolis in waves from December 2007 through November 2008.
Omar is among 14 charged in the investigation some terrorism experts call one of the largest of its kind.
"The numbers are huge compared to other domestic terrorism cases that have been brought," said Michael Greenberger, director of the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security.
Several individuals are accused in court documents of a mix of recruiting and raising funds for travel, and of engaging in terrorist acts in Somalia. Some allegedly attended training camps run by the group al-Shabab, which the U.S. says has ties to al-Qaida. All but one of the men who left the Minneapolis area are of Somali descent.
"We haven't seen anything like that before in the United States," Ralph S. Boelter, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Minneapolis field office, said of the case. "The recruitment is a global problem. ... It varies in intensity from place to place. I think (Minneapolis) is the center of it."
An affidavit unsealed Tuesday alleges the young Somalis' departures began with six men leaving in December 2007. Another left the following February, two more that August and another six last November.
The affidavit by Assistant U.S. Attorney W. Anders Folk states that before the first group left in 2007, Omar gave travel money to some "members of the conspiracy."
In January 2008, Omar allegedly went to Somalia himself, stayed at an al-Shabab safehouse for several days and provided money to purchase AK-47 assault rifles, the affidavit says.
Omar returned to the U.S. that April and was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Atlanta because he had an expired Minnesota driver's license, purchased his airline ticket with cash and was returning from a three-month trip to Somalia, according to another FBI affidavit.
In August 2008, Omar allegedly accompanied two men bound for Somalia to the airport and that November hosted a gathering that included several young men who left for Somalia in the following days to join al-Shabab, according to court documents.
Two of Omar's brothers in Minnesota previously have said he is innocent of terror-related charges and is not an extremist. They did not return telephone calls Tuesday.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a socialist dictator and then turned on each other, causing chaos in the African nation of 7 million. Minnesota has the largest population of Somali immigrants of any U.S. state.
Four men have pleaded guilty in Minneapolis to charges ranging from supporting terrorism to perjury and are awaiting sentencing.
Another man, Omer Abdi Mohamed, 24, of St. Anthony, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to terror-related charges. He is free on bond.
"Omer had absolutely no connection with a terrorist then, now, or ever," said his attorney, Peter Wold.
Seven others charged in the case are believed to be outside the United States.
"Some of them could have already met their demise," Boelter said. "We just don't know."