Suspected militant pleads guilty to aiding Somalia’s al Shabaab
An Eritrean man pleaded guilty in federal court on Wednesday to illegally giving funds and receiving military training from the al Qaeda-linked militant group al Shabaab.
Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed, 38, was arrested in Nigeria in November 2009 and brought to Manhattan federal court to face U.S. terrorism charges in March 2010. He is an Eritrean national and a permanent resident of Sweden.
Ahmed on Wednesday pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization and one count of conspiracy to receive military-type training from a terrorist group. Both offenses took place in 2009.
Prosecutors, in a plea agreement with Ahmed, recommended Judge Kevin Castel sentence him to 10 years in prison.
“The government would prove that the defendant handed over an AK-47 to an al Shabaab commander as he was leaving Somalia,” Manhattan federal prosecutor Benjamin Naftalis said at Wednesday’s plea hearing.
The U.S. government considers al Shabaab to be al Qaeda’s proxy in the failed Horn of Africa state. The U.S. State Department lists it as a foreign terrorist organization.
The 10-year prison term was significantly less than what Ahmed could have faced had he been convicted at trial on all five counts he faced. One of the counts, a gun possession charge, carried a mandatory minimum 30-year prison term.
In court papers last month, prosecutors said Ahmed had attended an Islamist militant training camp in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
In January 2009, prosecutors said, Ahmed traveled to Somalia from Sweden to join al Shabaab. He eventually spent six weeks in the militant group’s company and was later arrested by Nigerian authorities, the prosecutors said.
Defense lawyers for Ahmed at marathon court hearings in December sought to show that his arrest, detention and interrogation by Nigerian and U.S. authorities was improper.
In last month’s court papers, prosecutors also identified a person only as “CW-2,” a cooperating witness against Ahmed. The witness was described as a former al Shabaab military commander who met Ahmed in Somalia.
The person fits the profile of Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a suspected Somali militant who was captured in waters between Yemen and Somalia in April 2011. Warsame is in U.S. custody and is awaiting trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
The case is USA v Ahmed, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 10-131.