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Ohio man admits fundraising help for Somalia terror group al-Shabab

A Somali-American man admitted Monday that he helped raise money so others could travel from the U.S. to join the terror group al-Shabab in Somalia.
/ Source: news services

A Somali-American man admitted Monday that he helped raise money so others could travel from the U.S. to join the terror group al-Shabab in Somalia, and that he sent money to Somalia so one of those travelers could buy a firearm.

Ahmed Hussein Mahamud, 27, of Ohio pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

Mahamud, who lived in Eden Prairie before moving to Ohio last year, is the seventh man to plead guilty in Minnesota's ongoing federal investigation into the recruitment of fighters for the al-Qaida-linked group. A total of 18 Somali-Americans have been charged in connection to the investigation.

Under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Kovats, Mahamud admitted that from 2008 through February 2011, Mahamud and others conspired to provide money and people to al-Shabab, knowing the group was a designated foreign terrorist organization. Specifically, Mahamud said that in the summer of 2008, he and others told members of Minnesota's Somali-American community that they were raising money for a local mosque or for orphans in Somalia. Instead, Mahamud said, the $1,500 went toward airline tickets for men who would eventually go to Somalia.

After these men joined al-Shabab, Mahamud said one of them contacted him and asked for more money. Mahamud also admitted that on two separate occasions in 2009, he wired $50 to that man for the purchase of a firearm and to cover expenses. In 2010, Mahamud asked a woman in the U.S. to send $100 to that same man in Somalia, again for the purchase of a firearm, according to the plea agreement.

Mahamud, who has a wife and daughter in Ohio, has been living at a halfway house in Minnesota pending his trial. Conditions of his release were allowed to continue while he awaits sentencing; the date has not been set. Mahamud faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Guidelines presented in court Monday call for anywhere from 41 months in prison up to the maximum. The final sentence is up to Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis.

Mahamud's attorney, Rick Mattox, declined to comment after the hearing.

Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the United States with 32,000 people. Since 2007, at least 21 men are believed to have left Minnesota to join al-Shabab. Of the seven who have pleaded guilty, one served four months in prison and four months of home confinement for obstruction of justice and the rest haven't been sentenced. Eleven other men are charged in the investigation — nine are at large, one is awaiting trial and one is confirmed dead.

In addition, two southern Minnesota women, Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, are waiting to be sentenced. Last fall, they were convicted of, among other counts, conspiring to funnel more than $8,600 to al-Shabab from September 2008 through July 2009.

Omar Jamal, first secretary of the Somali Mission to the United Nations, said that each time a case is resolved, it gives community members a chance to put it behind them and move on.

"The lasting question on everybody's mind is, 'Who did this to these kids? Who was behind this mastermind behind the recruitment?' " Jamal said.

The case comes weeks after a U.S. bank decided to shut down wire transfer services that provide a lifeline from Minnesota to Somalia over concerns that it could risk violating U.S. regulatory and anti-terrorism finance laws.

Somali-Americans send about $100 million per year home to Somalia through small money transfer businesses because Somalia has no formal banking system.