A Minnesota man who helped build a training camp for a group of Islamic militants in his homeland of Somalia told a federal judge Tuesday that he had attended secret meetings in Minneapolis before he went back to East Africa.
Salah Osman Ahmed, 26, pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court to one count of providing material support to terrorists. Ahmed told U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum he went to Somalia to fight Ethiopian soldiers but ended up working with al-Shabab, which the U.S. designated a terrorist organization in March 2008.
He was the second man to plead guilty in connection with a string of young men who traveled in recent years to Somalia from the Minneapolis area, which has the nation's largest concentration of Somali immigrants. Authorities have said the men went to possibly fight with terrorist groups and may have been "radicalized" in Minnesota.
The federal investigation is ongoing.
Under Ahmed's plea agreement, three other charges against him will be dropped. U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum said Ahmed could face anywhere from five years and three months to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced. A hearing for that has not been set.
Ahmed, who was born in Somalia, told the judge he is an American citizen and immigrated to the U.S. when he was 15.
Meetings began in 2007
He explained that in October 2007, he began meeting with people who were talking about fighting Ethiopian soldiers. At the time, the Ethiopian army occupied parts of Somalia — and many Somalis viewed the soldiers as invaders who were abusive and heavy-handed.
"They said, `Ethiopians have taken over the country, so we will go back to Somalia to fight the Ethiopians,'" Ahmed said.
He said he and other people in the group went to Somalia in December 2007.
Once he was in Somalia, he knew he was working with al-Shabab, Ahmed said. At one point, he spent up to two weeks at an al-Shabab training camp, he said.
"I just helped cut trees and stuff at the camp," he told the judge.
Training included machine guns
He also said he was trained to use guns, including PKM machine guns.
Assistant U.S. Attorney W. Anders Folk had no comment as he left the courthouse. Salah Ahmed's family members and supporters also declined to comment.
Ahmed was arrested in mid-July when authorities unsealed a federal indictment against him. Another man, Abdifatah Yusuf Isse, 25, pleaded guilty in April to one count of providing material support to terrorists.
Ahmed and Isse were among as many as 20 young men who traveled to Somalia to possibly fight. Family members say at least three others have been killed, including Shirwa Ahmed, who the FBI has said was the first known U.S. citizen to carry out a suicide bombing when he died Oct. 29.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a socialist dictator then turned on each other, causing chaos in the African nation of 7 million. Islamic insurgents with alleged ties to al-Qaida recently intensified their efforts to capture the capital city, Mogadishu.