by Laura Yuen
MINNEAPOLIS — Defense attorneys described Mahamud Said Omar as “a frightened little man” who was “not capable of running anything.”
But a federal jury in Minneapolis didn’t buy it.
After more than two weeks of courtroom testimony, the jurors needed just a day of deliberations before convicting the 46-year-old former janitor of sending both money and fighters from the Twin Cities to a terror group in his native Somalia.
Omar’s case was the first to go to trial in the government’s sweeping federal investigation of al-Shabab recruitment in the United States.
The trial did not explain everything, but it did provide insight as to how about 20 young Minnesota men answered the call of a holy war in Somalia.
U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said it was a relief to finally share with the public what the government knew.
“For years — literally years — our community here in the Twin Cities has been curious and waiting for an opportunity to hear about the underlying facts of ‘Operation Rhino.’ ”
Operation Rhino was the FBI nickname for the investigation into the pipeline from Minnesota to the Horn of Africa. Mahamud Omar was found guilty Thursday on all five terror-related counts.
To be clear, Omar was never accused of planning attacks against the U.S. But prosecutor John Docherty stressed that steering men to al-Shabab is a crime against Americans. He said Omar helped move American men who were used as “cannon fodder” to al-Shabab. He said Omar ramped up his efforts after one Minneapolis recruit, a U.S. citizen, blew himself up in a suicide bombing in Somalia.
“What was done here [was] the recruiting of young men, funneling them from here to the Horn of Africa… where some of them lost their lives, and some of them took other people’s lives,” Docherty said. “We’ll be very pleased if today’s verdict plays any part in bringing that kind of behavior to a stop, because that’s the kind of thing that cannot go on in this community.”