MINNEAPOLIS — Terrorism charges filed Monday in Minneapolis against eight men painted the most complete picture yet of how approximately 20 Minneapolis men were allegedly indoctrinated, recruited and trained to fight in Somalia with a terrorist organization.
The eight, most of whom have fled the country, were also charged with providing financial support and fighting for Al-Shabaab, which the U.S. government identifies as a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaida.
The development, announced at the office of the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, brings to 14 the total number of local men charged or indicted in the case, considered to be one of the most far-reaching counterterrorism probes since that of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Four of the 14 already have pleaded guilty and await sentencing. Five other Somali men have been killed, along with a Muslim convert from Minneapolis.
Ralph Boelter, special agent in charge of the FBI's Minneapolis office, said Monday that investigators all along have been concerned about the prospects of American citizens with U.S. passports receiving terrorist training and returning to this country, possibly to carry out an attack on American soil.
He added, however, that the investigation here shows "no evidence" that such a plot exists.
Boelter said officials decided to announce the additional indictments Monday because they had "reached a tipping point" in the case and had made substantial progress in the investigation.
Boelter stopped short of saying that investigators had identified a "mastermind." Instead, he said, "I believe we have reached momentum and have reached the point where we will have full resolution of this case."
The picture painted in court records released Monday was of young Somali men seduced by the cause of defending their war-torn homeland against Ethiopian troops that had helped oust an Islamic government.
One of the key figures in romanticizing the fight was Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax, known to local Somalis by his former name "Ahmed Mardaadi" or his nickname "Adacki." Faarax was one the eight men indicted Monday and is believed to have fled the country.
According to court records, Faarax was helped in the recruiting by Abdiweli Yassin Isse, who also helped raise money for travel. Isse was among those indicted Monday.
The documents allege that Isse "misled community members into thinking they were contributing money to send young men to Saudi Arabia to study the Koran."
Six men bought the recruiters' pitch. Court records say that after arriving in Somalia in late 2007, the men allegedly stayed in safe houses and attended terrorist training camps that included "dozens of other young ethnic Somalis" from Somalia, other parts of Africa, Europe and the United States.
The trainees were reportedly trained by Somali, Arab and Western instructors "in the use of small arms, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and military-style tactics," records say. They also were indoctrinated against Ethiopian, American, Israeli and Western beliefs.
One of the six men who left was Shirwa Ahmed, 26, a former college student from Minneapolis who was killed in October 2008 in a suicide blast in northern Somalia.
Ahmed was identified as a suicide bomber after investigators matched a fingerprint from "a single finger" recovered from a truck bomb site. Ahmed is believed to be the first U.S. citizen to carry out a suicide bombing.
Ahmed's death, and the disappearances of another 8 to 10 young Somalis in the fall of 2008, immediately heightened fears in the U.S. intelligence community that other Somali men from the U.S. who left to train and fight with a terrorist group might return to America as trained killers who might carry out an attack here.
Similar fears surfaced in England, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia.
A friend of Faarax's said last week that Faarax had posted on Facebook that he had made it out of the country and was "home."
Isse also is believed to be out of the country, officials said Monday.