First Guilty Verdict in Operation Rhino

By Matthew Harwood

The Department of Justice and its Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) believe it took another step yesterday in trying to stop the flow of young Minneapolis men to fight in Somalia’s civil war on behalf of a terrorist organization.

On Thursday, Mahamud Said Omar, a janitor at a Minneapolis mosque, was convicted on five terrorism-related counts for facilitating the recruitment and travel of young Somali-American men to join al Shabaab, a designated foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government, as well as fundraising to buy the group arms. Omar will likely spend the rest of his life in jail.

Omar’s conviction is the first jury conviction of Operation Rhino, the FBI’s investigation into how more than 20 men decided to travel to Somalia and put their lives on the line for al Shabaab. Eighteen others have been charged as part of Operation Rhino. Seven have pleaded guilty, according to the Associated Press. Six are confirmed dead, while others are presumed to be dead or in Somalia.

The lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty, said Omar provided “cannon fodder” to the Islamist militia.

"What was done here [was] the recruiting of young men, funneling them from here to the Horn of Africa... where some of them lost their lives, and some of them took other people's lives," Docherty said, reports Minnesota Public Radio. "We'll be very pleased if today's verdict plays any part in bringing that kind of behavior to a stop, because that's the kind of thing that cannot go on in this community."

The FBI continues to investigate the flow of militants to Somalia from Minneapolis.

"They're looking for foot soldiers. They're looking for financiers. They're looking for facilitators. And I think that's what Mahamoud Said Omar was, a kind of facilitator," said former lead prosecutor W. Anders Folk, now in private practice, reports the StarTribune. "I think the verdict really reflects that juries are going to hold people accountable for whatever kind of role folks in the United States decide to play on behalf of Al-Shabab."


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