Minnesota men who joined 'jihad' in Somalia

by Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
November 2011

Last updated on Oct. 1, 2012

Since 2007, at least 20 young Twin Cities men have left for the Horn of Africa, allegedly to take up arms in Somalia's civil war. Authorities believe the men joined al-Shabab, a ruthless and radical Islamic militia group vying to topple Somalia's weak transitional government. The FBI has confirmed that two of the recruits became suicide bombers, and seven others are believed to have been killed in the fighting. A mix of nationalism and religious extremism motivated the men to join the fighting. Here is what we know about these men.


First wave (late 2007)


Dahir Gure
Believed to be among the original group of fighters from Minnesota, Gure traveled to Somalia in October 2007 to violently oust the Ethiopian military, which had been invited by the faltering Somali government, according to court documents. Gure and others allegedly raised money to send men to their homeland in fall of 2007. He left for Somalia on Oct. 30, 2007. Four years later, Somali-American community members say they heard he died overseas, but authorities have not been able to confirm his death.

Khalid Mohamud Abshir
Authorities say Abshir, who worked at a car-rental company, helped persuade four other Twin Cities men to fight in Somalia from September 2007 to January 2008. He left for Somalia in December 2007 and is still believed to be at large in Somalia.

Shirwa Ahmed
The 2000 graduate of Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis left for Somalia on Dec. 1, 2007. One year later, at 27, he blew himself up in northern Somalia and became known as America's first suicide bomber. He is buried in a cemetery in Burnsville, Minn.

Ahmed Ali Omar
Known to his friends as an influential force, the 2004 graduate of Edison High School in Minneapolis allegedly persuaded four other Twin Cities men to fight in Somalia from September to December 2007. Reached by phone by MPR News in 2009, he declined to say why he was in Somalia. Omar was indicted in August 2009 on terror charges, and is believed to be at large in Somalia.

Salah Osman Ahmed
The former North Hennepin Community College student traveled to Somalia in December 2007 to train with al-Shabab. But after a change of heart, he left the camp before the U.S. declared al-Shabab a terrorist group. He quietly returned to Minnesota and worked as a security guard. In July 2009, he pleaded guilty to one count of providing material support to terrorists. He was sentenced in May 2013 to three years in prison.

Abdifatah Yusuf Isse
Motivated by the Ethiopian troops who invaded Somalia, Isse departed for his homeland in December 2007 to train with al-Shabab. He pleaded guilty in April 2009 of providing material support to terrorists. He was sentenced in May 2013 to three years in prison.

Kamal Said Hassan
The former Minneapolis Community and Technical College student left for Somalia with Salah Ahmed and Abdifatah Isse, but he stayed at the al-Shabab training camp longer than the other two men. He remained active with the terrorist group until the summer of 2008, and authorities say he continued to "follow the orders of al-Shabab" after leaving the camp. In August 2009, Hassan pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists and to a foreign terrorist organization. He was sentenced in May 2013 to 10 years in prison.



Second wave (2008)


Mahamud Said Omar
Omar traveled to Somalia in January 2008, but he did not train or fight for al-Shabab. Prosecutors say Omar, a former janitor at the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque, helped facilitate the pipeline of fighters to Somalia. He shared an al-Shabab safe house with several other Minnesota fighters, and helped pay for their AK-47 rifles, prosecutors allege, before coming back to Minnesota a few months later. Upon returning, the government says he helped a new wave of Minneapolis fighters join al-Shabab by accompanying them to the airport and to a travel agency where they purchased their plane tickets. But his family says he was financially broke, mentally unwell, and incapable of running a terrorist pipeline. He was convicted in October 2012 on five terror-related charges, including providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. He was sentenced in May 2013 to 20 years in prison.

Zakaria Maruf
A former member of the Somali-American gang the Hot Boyz, the 2000 Edison High School graduate left the street life after he became religious. Seen as a hot-tempered but persuasive leader among his friends, Maruf traveled to Somalia on Feb. 23, 2008, and recruited others to join his cause. Friends learned he was killed in Somalia on July 11, 2009. One month later, he was indicted on terror-related charges.

Abdirashid Ali Omar
Little is known about Omar. Somali-American community members say he was killed in September 2010 in Mogadishu, on a day that al-Shabab was locked in heavy gunfire with African Union peacekeepers.

Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan
Known to his friends as "Miski," in August 2008 the Roosevelt High School student left Minneapolis for Somalia at 17. He was indicted on terrorism charges in August 2009. He is still believed to be at large.

Mustafa Ali Salat
A student at Harding High School in St. Paul, Salat was 17 when he left for Somalia in August 2008. He was indicted in August 2009 on terror-related charges. He is believed to be at large.

Burhan Hassan
A student at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, Hassan dreamed of becoming a doctor. He was 17 when he left for Somalia on Nov. 4, 2008. Family members say he was killed in June 2009 by al-Shabab members for trying to escape.

Mohamoud Hassan
Voted "most friendly" by graduating seniors at Roosevelt High School in 2006, Hassan went on to study engineering at the University of Minnesota. He cared for his aging grandmother in an apartment in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. Known as "Bashir" to friends, Hassan left for Somalia in November 2008. Family members learned he was killed in September 2009 in Mogadishu.

Abdisalan Hussein Ali
The Edison High School graduate attended the University of Minnesota, where he sold designer sneakers to help support his family. He was 19 when he left for Somalia on Nov. 4, 2008. He was indicted in July 2010 on terror charges. In October 2011, some media outlets, citing community members reported that he likely carried out a suicide bombing in Mogadishu. There has been no official confirmation that Ali was the bomber and the U.S. Attorneys Office now says they believe him to be alive in Somalia.

Jamal Bana
Bana studied engineering at Minneapolis Community and Technical and Normandale colleges. He was 19 when he left for Somalia in November 2008. Family members learned on July 11, 2009, that he was killed in Mogadishu.

Troy Kastigar
A Muslim convert, Kastigar was seen at community basketball games and at a Minneapolis mosque where most of the other fighters worshipped. He was 27 when he left for Somalia in November 2008. His family was told in September 2009 that he was dead.

Abdikadir Ali Abdi
The Hopkins teen left for Somalia in November 2008 at the age of 17. He was indicted in July 2010 on terror-related charges. He is believed to be at large in Somalia.



Third wave (2009)


Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax
A Minneapolis cab driver, Faarax' views on religion and Somali politics concerned some community members in the Twin Cities. Nicknamed "Adaki," he told friends he first fought in Somalia in 2007. When he returned to Minnesota, he told other men he experienced "true brotherhood" in the jihad, according to court documents. One year after the federal investigation began, Faarax, who was on the no-fly list and was questioned by authorities, escaped the country on Oct. 5, 2009, and was later indicted on terrorism charges. Friends believe he is at large in Somalia, where he remains active on Facebook.

Abdiweli Yassin Isse
Authorities believe Isse raised money to buy plane tickets for other young men to travel from Minnesota to Somalia. He allegedly described the fighting in their homeland as "a good jihad." Known as "Farhan," he worked at a money-wiring service. Isse left the country in October 2009 with Faraax, and was indicted in July 2010 on terror-related charges. It's believed he is still at large.

Farah Mohamed Beledi
Estranged from his family, the St. Paul man ran with a street gang and stabbed another man at a soccer game. He started to turn his life around after he was released from prison in 2008. He left for Somalia in October 2009, with Faarax and Isse. Beledi became the second Minnesotan suicide bomber in Somalia, when he tried to detonate himself at a government checkpoint in May 2011. He was shot to death before he could deploy his bombs.

Fourth wave (2009)


Mohamed Osman
Introverted and religious, the graduate of Southwest High School in Minneapolis was 19 when he quietly slipped away for Somalia in July 2012. Before he left, he taught the Quran to children at an Islamic school on Lake Street. Federal authorities believe he joined al-Shabab and is still at large. His departure, three years after the last batch of recruits left, signaled that the terrorist pipeline continued to flow from Minnesota to the East African terror group.

Omar Ali Farah
Authorities say Farah, then 21, left with Mohamed Osman for Somalia in July 2012 to join al-Shabab. He is believed to be at large.