Two men who left Minnesota to join an Al Qaeda-linked group in Somalia have been sentenced to three years in prison, while a man they said lead Al Shabab recruiting efforts was sentenced to 12 years.
Americans with Al Shabab links in Somalia jailed on terror charges
MINNEAPOLIS // Two men who left Minnesota to join an Al Qaeda-linked group in Somalia were sentenced to three years in prison, while a man they said lead Al Shabab recruiting efforts was sentenced to 12 years.
They were among six men sentenced this week for their roles in the government's long-running investigation into the travels of more than 20 young men who left Minnesota to join Al Shabab group in Somalia - a phenomenon that has been called one of the largest efforts to recruit US fighters into a foreign terrorist group.
Abdifatah Yusuf Isse, 29, and Salah Osman Ahmed, 30, both left Minnesota and travelled to Somalia in 2007. They both spent about a week in an Al Shabab training camp before they said they realised what the group was all about and escaped.
The government recommended they receive less than the maximum sentence of 15 years in prison because they co-operated. The federal judge Michael Davis went even lower than prosecutors recommended, sentencing them to three years on Tuesday.
The timing of their departure from Al Shabab was not lost on Mr Davis, who a day earlier gave a 10-year sentence to a man who stayed in the camp longer and participated in an ambush.
"I'm going to take a chance on you," Mr Davis told Isse. "You devised a scheme to get away. That told me a lot about you. ... If you had been involved in the ambush, you'd be doing a lot of time.
"You've got a lot to live up to now. If I'm wrong about you, it's on my head."
As part of their cooperation, Isse and Ahmed testified in the recent trial of another defendant. In that trial, they characterised Omer Abdi Mohamed as a leader in recruitment efforts, saying he used the Quran to convince them they were doing the right thing.
Mr Davis sentenced Mohamed to 12 years on Tuesday, without providing a reason. But after hearing that witness testimony about Mohamed last October, and learning that Mohamed was volunteering at a school, Mr Davis called Mohamed "a danger to the community".
In his guilty plea in 2011, Mohamed admitted he attended secret meetings and helped recruits get plane tickets - even providing a false itinerary for one traveller - but he never travelled to Somalia himself. He faced a maximum of 15 years, but the government recommended slightly less because he co-operated.
Mohamed's attorney, Peter Wold, was stunned by the sentence.
"I'm distraught," he said afterward, adding he plans to appeal.
Mr Wold said during the hearing that another man, not Mohamed, was the real ringleader and that the travellers were not motivated by the Quran, but instead went to fight Ethiopian troops.
Many Somalis viewed the Ethiopians as invaders in their homeland.
An Ohio man who admitted that he helped raise money so others could travel from Minnesota to Somalia was also sentenced on Tuesday. Ahmed Hussein Mahamud, who lived in Minnesota until moving to Ohio in 2011, received three years in prison on one terror-related count.
Mr Davis, who has overseen these cases for years, said he still struggles to understand what would make young men from good families, who came to Minnesota as refugees, choose to return to violence.
"We have to figure out what's going on and try to make sure this never happens again."