Since the fall of 2007, at least 21 men have left Minnesota for Somalia, where authorities believe they joined the terror group al-Shabab to allegedly take up arms against the Ethiopian army. The Minneapolis-area Somalis held secret meetings in 2007 to plan the trips, created fake itineraries to fool family members and challenged one another about their commitment, prosecutors contend in a court filing.
Eighteen people have been charged in Minnesota in connection with the case, including Omer Abdi Mohamed, who goes on trial next week on terror-related charges including recruiting young Somali's from Minneapolis to join the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group.
Mohamed never traveled to Somalia, but he is accused of helping others who did. His attorney calls the allegations ridiculous.
According to prosecutors, starting in September 2007, Mohamed and others conspired to raise money to send men to Somalia to violently oust the Ethiopians. Others were also recruited to the cause. The group held meetings at mosques and restaurants, and took measures to keep things secretive.
"The defendant and his conspirators strove to keep the plan secret, reminding members not to discuss it with anyone outside of the conspiracy, and policing entry into the group," prosecutors said.
Mohamed and others went to malls and apartments, falsely telling members of the Somali community they were raising money to build a mosque or help relief efforts in Somalia, prosecutors said. The money actually went to the travelers, who planned to join one group member's relative — a senior member of al-Shabab — in Somalia.
The document said Mohamed and another man stayed behind to provide financial support to travelers. It also says Mohamed advised his coconspirators to listen to a lecture by radical Muslim leader Anwar al-Awlaki about the path to jihad, and that at least one person did.
"They challenged members of the conspiracy who had planned to travel, questioning their commitment, dedication, and knowledge of both the religion and events in Somalia, before ultimately assisting them with the trip," the document said.
The document said some of the men went to Somalia through Saudi Arabia or through Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and eventually met each other and went to safe-houses. Some Minneapolis men helped clear brush for a training camp, and some participated in a July 2008 ambush of Ethiopian troops along a road in Somalia — the preparations and the ambush were filmed as part of a propaganda video.
Prosecutors say in that video, a man from Minneapolis encourages more men to join the fighters in Somalia.
The Washington Post recently reported that Minneapolis has become the most concentrated center of Islamic radicalization in the U.S. since 9/11. It was among the 10,000 Somali immigrants in downtown Minneapolis that Shirwa Ahmed, the first U.S. citizen to carry out a terrorist suicide bombing overseas, was radicalized. Abdullahi Ahmed left Minnesota two years ago for Somalia where he continued to train, and would become a suicide bomber killing himself and three others in late May of this year.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a socialist dictator and then turned on each other, causing chaos in the African nation of about 7 million people. In 2006, Ethiopian soldiers, which many Somalis viewed as abusive, occupied parts of Somalia and a militant group called al-Shabab fought against against them. The U.S. declared al-Shabab a terrorist organization in early 2008.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.