MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man who has been accused of using his knowledge of the Quran to persuade young men to leave the state in 2007 and fight with the terror group al-Shabab in Somalia has been working in a position of authority at an Islamic school, authorities said Wednesday.
Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis called Omer Abdi Mohamed a "danger to the community," and ordered that he remain in custody until he is sentenced on one terror-related count in the government's ongoing investigation into the recruiting of more than 20 young men who authorities say left Minnesota to join the al-Qaida-linked group.
Mohamed, 27, pleaded guilty last year. He was free, pending sentencing, but was arrested last week after authorities said he violated conditions of his release by not disclosing the nature of his employment.
Prosecutors said Mohamed had been working at Essential Learning of Minnesota Institute, a nonprofit program that offers after-school homework help, recreation activities and religious classes to children. Mohamed told his probation officer he was a volunteer teacher's assistant, but some parents told the FBI that he was a manager or director.
Mohamed's attorney, Peter Wold, claims his client did not violate conditions of release, and that he was not a paid employee. He said Mohamed didn't know that details of volunteer work needed to be spelled out, but that Mohamed was telling the truth — that he was helping teachers.
Mohamed's arrest came on the heels of a recent trial in which three witnesses said they considered him to be a leader in recruiting efforts in Minnesota in 2007. One of the witnesses said Mohamed recited Quran verses about fighting, telling him he would be a good Muslim if he went to Somalia.
Davis said Wednesday that the court had a wealth of information about Mohamed's alleged activities in the web of "secret" indoctrination of Somali youth, adding, "the treacherous web has been exposed."
The executive director of the school, called ELMI for short, could not be reached by The Associated Press.
FBI Special Agent Uri Rosenwald testified Wednesday about FBI interviews with parents. One mother told authorities that her daughter, a high school senior, was held down while the Quran was read over her — a form of religious exorcism.
The mother said Mohamed, whom she identified as a school director, tried to calm her down when she arrived at the school looking for her daughter, Rosenwald testified. Mohamed and a teacher locked the mother in a room and told her the girl was unwell.
Bruce Nestor, the school's attorney, told the AP he didn't know anything about the incident and could not comment.
Wold said about 1,000 students attend ELMI, and noted the FBI interviews indicated some parents think it's a good school. Abdulcadir Haji, a parent who testified for the defense, said it's the best one for his three children. Haji also said Mohamed was a parent coordinator, not a manager.
In his plea agreement last year, Mohamed had admitted helping some Minnesota men get tickets for travel to Somalia. He claimed he was never a terrorist but motivated by patriotism and a push to expel Ethiopian troops that had been called in to restore order by Somalia's U.N.-backed government. He said his involvement ended before the U.S. designated al-Shabab a terrorist group.
Wold has told the AP he hadn't heard his client was accused of being a leader in recruiting until it was brought up in court recently.
Also Wednesday, prosecutors presented evidence confirming that at least two additional men traveled from Minnesota to East Africa this summer. Mohamed Guled Osman, 19, and Omar Ali Farah, 20, left July 18.
Rosenwald said one parent told the FBI that Osman taught at ELMI, and one of Farah's relatives said Farah taught religious classes, but did not specify where.
The AP has previously reported Farah's departure.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent E.K. Wilson said Wednesday both men are presumed to be in Somalia. He would not confirm whether ELMI or anyone at the school is being investigated.
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