Sources say local man supported al-Shabaabby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — He was a grinning social butterfly, and by some accounts, a skilled flirt -- not a trait typically associated with the most pious Muslim men.
But Cabdulaahi Faarah was also opinionated, according to friends and acquaintances. And they say his outspoken views in support of the Somali extremist group al-Shabaab shocked those who knew him in Minnesota's Somali-American community.
Some of those friends believe Faarah was one of five men involved in a cross-country road trip last week that has gotten the attention of federal authorities. That's because a court document filed this week identifies one of the men in the car "Adaki" -- a rare nickname by which Faarah's friends and acquaintances knew him.
The man who alledgedly rented the car, Abdow M. Abdow, was charged this week in St. Paul of lying to federal agents investigating the case of about 20 Minnesota men who allegedly left for their native Somalia to fight with a terrorist group.
The affidavit identifying Adaki as a man in the car was signed by FBI agent Michael Cannizzaro Jr.
Three people, including two acquaintances and one close friend, have told MPR News they believe Faarah was one of the first Somali-American men to travel to their homeland, presumably to fight. Two of those individuals say he was injured there. He came back to Minnesota with combat scars, according to a friend who requested anonymity because she didn't want to betray his trust.
The three people were interviewed separately and corrorborated each other's accounts of Faarah's activiites.
The three people said they didn't want to be identified in this story because they didn't want to attract attention to themselves during a highly sensitive investigation. One said he feared he would be targeted by Shabaab sympathizers. MPR News tried calling Faarah on his cell phone, but the call went directly to his voice mail. He did not return a message. His friend said he hasn't been answering his phone for days.
It's unclear when Faarah may have traveled to the East African country, but he is believed by at least two people who knew him to have returned to the U.S. before the young "missing men" from Minnesota garnered headlines. Since his return, say the three people, he was convinced he was being tracked by the FBI and was on the federal no-fly list.
The FBI would not confirm whether Faarah was in Abdow's rental car when it was pulled over by a Nevada state trooper Oct. 6. According to a criminal complaint against Abdow, two of the men in the car with him were seen two days later at the U.S.-Mexico border crossing near San Diego. Authorities have not said whether the passengers successfully entered Mexico, or if they were detained.
Members of the Somali-American community who spoke with MPR news say many in the community are convinced the men were trying to go to Somalia by way of Mexico.
On the surface, Faarah seemed like many Somali-American men in Minnesota. His close friend said he drove cabs for a living. On his Facebook page, he listed his age as 31, and reported his occupation as a driving-school instructor. He was a standout soccer player, according to two other players who knew him on the field, and made friends easily. On his Facebook page, Faarah wrote that he graduated from Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis in 2000. Shirwa Ahmed, who authorities believe carried out a suicide bombing in Somalia last fall, also was in Roosevelt's class of 2000.
Abdi Aynte, a former Twin Cities journalist who now lives in Washington D.C., said he didn't know Faarah well, but began to notice changes in how Faarah dressed and carried himself over the past few years.
"I have seen him transition from a fun-loving young man who does not hold a particularly strong political views on anything, to a pious man...who seems to hold very strong views on Islam," said Aynte. "The transition he went through also shaped his views on what's going on around the world, and maybe what's going on in Somalia."
Faarah began to wear white robes seen more commonly in Arab countries, another sign that he was becoming more devout. And according to friends and acquaintances, he began to challenge those who publicly condemned the violent and abhorrent actions of al-Shabaab, the terrorist group that the Minnesota fighters allegedly joined.
This summer, Faarah chastised a close friend because she was participating in a rally this summer against the suicide bombings carried out by al-Shabaab.
"He got into this whole attack mode," she recalled. "He said, 'You don't understand anything about religion, you need to slow down.' I said, 'I don't have to understand religion to know it's not okay for people to bomb innocent people or to cut people's hands off to punish people.'"
But the woman said he always delivered his opinions with a smile.
As recently as a month ago, three people told MPR News Faarah began to lash out against the Somali president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who was planning a visit to the Twin Cities at the time.
Although President Ahmed is a moderate Islamic scholar, Faarah called him an "infidel," those people said.
When they pressed him for an explanation as to why he was living in the U.S. if he held such radical views, he told them he wished he could go to Somalia. But, he told them, he believed he was being closely watched by federal agents and said he had to surrender his passport.
The female friend, who learned of last week's road trip only after it made the news, also speculated that Faarah was not planning a trip to Somalia when Abdow's car was pulled over in Nevada last week. She thought Faarah was simply running away.