Terror trial now in jury’s hands

A man is charged with recruiting men, including two U students, to terror group al-Shabab.

Derek Wetmore

A jury will now deliberate the fate of the first man to go to trial in the FBI’s investigation into al-Shabab recruitment in Minneapolis.

The court heard closing statements Wednesday in the trial of Mahamud Said Omar, a Minneapolis man charged with helping local men travel to Somalia to join the terrorist group.

The trial — which spanned almost three weeks — was the public’s first look at the FBI’s investigation into the recruitment of more than 20 young men who left the U.S. to fight, two of which were University of Minnesota students at the time.

Omar faces five counts and could get life in prison if convicted.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty rehashed the government’s case Wednesday: Some of Omar’s own past statements were incriminating, and phone records show Omar’s contact with men who left for Somalia. Records like passport applications, travel itineraries, phone bills and testimony from former al-Shabab fighters rounded out the case.

But defense attorneys repeatedly reminded jurors throughout the trial that the three former al-Shabab members who testified had the incentive of a lower sentence. They had also lied to authorities in the past.

Defense attorney Andrew Birrell said in his closing statement that the case demonstrates why the U.S. government should not make deals with terrorists.

The government says Omar purchased AK-47s for fighters and helped six of the Minneapolis men, including the two University students, buy their plane tickets to Somalia.

The prosecution showed phone records between Omar and those six men that depicted a huge spike in phone calls after Oct. 29, 2008, the day the first-known American suicide bomber killed himself in an al-Shabab attack in Somalia.

During his closing statement, Birrell pointed at Omar and told the jury the defendant is “one of the little people in the world.” The defense claimed Omar is incapable of such large-scale organization and that he was merely a “46-year-old computer-illiterate, $3-an-hour janitor.”

He also said Omar didn’t do things a normal leader would do, as he didn’t attend many meetings in Minneapolis between group members planning their return to Somalia.

Birrell said the structure for recruitment existed without Omar’s help and that all the men were capable of deciding to go fight on their own.

The jury of four men and eight women will continue deliberations Thursday.