Interesting defense. “Somali al-Shabaab terror trial opens in Minneapolis,” by David Hanners for the Pioneer Press, October 2 (thanks to Block Ness):
…Jurors in the federal court trial in Minneapolis of a man accused of financing the terrorist group al-Shabaab got a primer on Somali’s [sic] troubled recent history Tuesday, Oct. 2, and were told it is a place where the former government was as corrupt as al-Shabaab — and sometimes as violent.
The former head of the U.N. group monitoring an arms embargo against Somalia told jurors in the trial of Mahamud Said Omar that the government al-Shabaab was fighting was itself involved in violating the embargo.
“Local commanders were selling arms in the market,” Matthew Bryden testified, speaking of Somali government officials.
Bryden was the government’s leadoff witness in the trial of Omar, 46. The Minneapolis man is accused of providing money and encouraging Somalis from the Twin Cities to return to their homeland to fight for al-Shabaab.
The militant Islamic group aims to establish its own government in the East African country. The State Department designated it as a terrorist group in 2008, and this year it merged with al-Qaida.
The former janitor and would-be trucker is accused of three counts of conspiracy and two counts of providing aid to al-Shabaab.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Kovats Jr. said in his opening statement that Omar was part of a secret group that sought to persuade young Somali men — many of whom had no real memories of their homeland — to fight for al-Shabaab.
“They were raised here and educated here, but the defendant turned them around and put them into that pipeline to Somalia,” Kovats told the 10 women and six men who make up the jury and alternates.
The alleged recruiting began after the U.N.-backed transitional government brought in troops from neighboring Ethiopia — Somalia’s longtime adversary — to rout al-Shabaab from the territory it held, including the capital of Mogadishu.
Many Somalis viewed the Ethiopian troops as invaders and sought help from abroad. In an April 2007 appearance at the Minneapolis Convention Center, even former Somali Prime Minister Abdirizak Haji Hussein told Somalis that they had “every right to free their country from the Ethiopian occupation.”
Al-Shabaab wanted to rid the country of Ethiopian and African Union troops, but its main goal was to set up a government based on a strict form of Islamic law.
Kovats said al-Shabaab’s recruiting drive stretched to Minnesota, home to an estimated 32,000 people of Somali descent. He said Omar belonged to a secret group that persuaded several men to travel to Somalia to fight for al-Shabaab.
Suspicious of the exodus, family members went to the FBI. So far, 18 men have been charged, including three who will testify against Omar. Omar is the only one to go to trial.
Kovats told jurors that the three men will testify that they were taken to an al-Shabaab safe house in Merca, a town near Mogadishu, where Omar gave them money.
In his opening remarks, defense attorney Andrew Birrell said the government’s theory was wrong and that Omar was a “man of modest gifts and resources who is not capable of running anything.”
He said Omar, who came to the U.S. in 1993 and to Minnesota in 2000, “has never held a position of responsibility; he’s never supervised anyone; he’s never been responsible for anything.”…