Analysis: Does fighting abroad constitute terrorism?by Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio,
Cathy Wurzer, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A federal grand jury has indicted Abdifatah Yusuf Isse of Seattle, Wash. and Salah Osman Ahmed of New Brighton, Minn. on terrorism charges in connection with the ongoing investigation of about 20 missing Somali-American men from the Twin Cities.
Ahmed has been charged with providing material support to terrorism, and conspiracy to kill people outside of the U.S. Isse was arrested in February and is cooperating with authorities, according to an indictment. Both men are currently in custody.
National security law professor John Radsan explained in an interview with MPR that the "material support" law -- which predates the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- makes it illegal to provide assistance to something that's going to result in terrorism or to provide assistance to a designated terrorist group. Authorities believe Ahmed and Isse joined an extremist Islamic group with ties to al-Qaida in their homeland.
"We don't need an act," said Radsan, who teaches at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. "We consider that any kind of assistance, as long as its material, is going to be a crime."
Court records released Tuesday say while Isse was in Somalia, he lived in al-Shabaab houses, received basic weapons instruction and was issued an AK-47 assault rifle and ammunition, although he did not fire this weapon while in Somalia. Ahmed is also charged with lying to the FBI.
Radsan said there are challenges in trying these types of cases.
"The difficulty is we don't want to criminalize people's thoughts, but we also want to make sure we don't wait until something goes 'boom' before we decide to bring the criminal case," Radsan said.
Radsan said even though incidents Ahmed and Isse are charged with happened in Somalia, the case remains relevant in the U.S.
"If these young men can be recruited to fight in a civil war, to do suicide bombings over there, it probably won't take much for them to be turned back around, to come here and do bad things," Radsan said. "We don't have evidence of that, but that's the concern back to the states."
Elizabeth Baier, based in Rochester, covers news in southeastern Minnesota for MPR News.