Mike Carter and Ian Ith, Seattle Times, July 16, 2009
A Seattle man has pleaded guilty in Minnesota to terrorism-related charges in connection with the disappearances of dozens of U.S. Somali youths, some of whom turned up fighting with suspected terrorists in Somalia and at least one of whom became a suicide bomber, according to court documents and interviews.
Court records show Abdifatah Yusuf Isse, 25, a 2002 Roosevelt High School graduate and a former economics student at Eastern Washington University, traveled to Somalia to train with Al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based radical Islamist group that last year was designated by the U.S. State Department as a foreign terrorist organization.
His court-appointed attorney said Isse was likely being recruited as a possible suicide bomber.
He pleaded guilty to a single count of providing material support to terrorists–which carries a possible 10-year prison sentence–and has been cooperating with federal investigators in what the FBI has said in an ongoing investigation.
Omar Jamal, the director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in Minneapolis, also has spoken with Isse’s family and said Isse was approached by jihad recruiters at the Abubakar as-Saddique mosque, the largest Somali mosque in Minneapolis.
“These people came here and took these boys right under the noses of the FBI,” he said.
Investigators say as many as 20 young Somali men from the Twin Cities area have disappeared in the past two years, and at least three of them have turned up dead in Somalia. They include Shirwa Ahmed, an American who blew himself up in a suicide bombing against U.N. and Ethiopian forces last October.
Paul Engh, Isse’s Minneapolis attorney, wrote in documents that Isse “will not be the last defendant indicted” because of the recruitment done by those he trusted.
Records show Isse enrolled at Eastern Washington University, a 10,000-student campus at Cheney, near Spokane, in January 2003. He stayed there four years and majored in economics, until he left in December 2007 without earning a degree.
Eastern’s student body is about 20 percent nonwhite, including a lot of foreign-born students. And Isse wasn’t any different from any other college kid his age, recalled Grant Forsyth, an associate professor of economics who served as Isse’s academic adviser. His professors and peers knew him as “Abdi,” and said he socialized easily with both foreign- and native-born students.
Isse was a nice young man who expressed an interest in graduate school and aspired to work for the United Nations or the World Bank, Forsyth said. Like many undergraduate students, Isse had to be reminded to show up to class more often, Forsyth said. And as he progressed in the economics department, he struggled with the upper-level classes.