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Mike Levine

Washington, DC

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Man On Terror Watchlist Stopped Then Let Go

October 14, 2009 - 11:39 PM | by: Mike Levine

A Somali man on the U.S. government’s terrorist watchlist was stopped last week by a police officer outside Las Vegas, but the officer had no legal authority to detain the man so he was sent on his way, multiple law enforcement sources told FOX News.

On Oct. 6, about 10 miles north of Las Vegas, a Nevada Highway Patrol officer pulled over a rental car that was speeding, according to court records and one of the sources. The gray Chevrolet was occupied by five men of Somali descent, including Cabdulaahi Faarax of Minneapolis and Abdow M. Abdow of Chanhassen, Minn., according to the court records and sources.

The five men offered conflicting accounts of their travel. All five told the officer they were on their way to San Diego to attend a friend’s wedding, but they “gave inconsistent explanations regarding where they were staying in San Diego, how the occupants knew one another, and who was getting married at the wedding in San Diego,” according to court documents.

When asked for their dates of birth, they all gave “January 1” as their birthday, but each offered a different year of birth. Faarax said he was born Jan. 1, 1977, making him 32 years old, one source said.

When the officer ran Faarax’s information through a law enforcement database, it came back as “a hit on the terrorist watchlist,” a law enforcement source said.

It’s unclear why Faarax’s name would be on the terrorist watchlist. But unless there’s a warrant for the person’s arrest or a “red notice” from the global police force Interpol, there is no reason or ability to detain someone on the list, sources said.

“There are people on the list that are just being monitored,” one law enforcement source said.

“If there’s not a crime being committed, there’s no reason to hold anybody,” another source said. “Once they’re on the list, it’s kind of just being supervised, like being on parole. You just interview them, and if they didn’t do anything wrong, you cut them loose.”

The officer who stopped the car last week would not have known what prompted Faarax’s name to be added to the terrorist watchlist, only that Faarax was on the list, one source said.

However, sources confirm that occupants of the car are related to the long-running FBI investigation of young men from the Minneapolis area and elsewhere who were recruited to train and possibly fight alongside an Al Qaeda-linked group in Somalia, known as al-Shabaab.

One source said Faarax had certain associations with al-Shabaab, but how deep those associations run is unclear.

For example, voicing support online for al-Shabaab, which was labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. government last year, could warrant placement on the terrorist watchlist, one source said.

Training with al-Shabaab in Somalia could also warrant placement on the terrorist watchlist. None of the sources would say whether Faarax had trained with al-Shabaab or traveled to Somalia recently.

Still, the sources said, Faarax would have been detained last week by the Nevada Highway Patrol officer if Faarax had been deemed an “immediate threat.”

One law enforcement source called all of this “an unexpected twist” in the FBI’s investigation.

An FBI spokesman in Minneapolis, E.K. Wilson, declined to comment for this article. Asked whether authorities know the current whereabouts of Faarax or any of the other passengers from the vehicle, aside from Abdow, Wilson said he couldn’t answer.

An FBI spokesman in Washington also declined to comment for this article.

However, two days after their vehicle was pulled over outside Las Vegas, two of the passengers appeared at the U.S.-Mexico border crossing in San Ysidro, Calif.

According to court documents, they had been dropped off by a taxicab, and they told a customs official at the border crossing “that they would be flying from Tijuana airport to Mexico City airport, and [they] displayed airline tickets to the Officer.”

In several cases over the past decade, Mexico has been a waypoint for travel between the United States and Somalia.

Meanwhile, the driver of the rented vehicle, 26-year-old Abdow M. Abdow, is the only one of the five Somali men to be facing charges so far.

He has been charged in a criminal complaint with lying to the FBI.

The officer who stopped Abdow’s vehicle found $4,000 in the car and eventually learned that Abdow’s wife had filed a missing persons report in Minneapolis. The officer contacted the FBI, which interviewed Abdow on Oct. 8.

After giving conflicting accounts about his travel a few days before, Abdow told the FBI agents interviewing him, “I am talking too much,” according to court documents.

Asked who paid for the rental car, he told the FBI he didn’t know, that he had done nothing wrong, and that “whatever those guys are into I’m not,” according to court documents.

FBI agents later determined Abdow rented the car from Avis Rental Car Company and paid for it with his own Visa debit card.

“He was obviously trying to protect somebody or some people,” one source said.

Abdow made his initial appearance in federal court on Tuesday. A judge in the case ruled that Abdow could be released to a halfway house under certain conditions.

A grand jury in Minneapolis is still investigating how the Somali men from Minnesota were recruited to fight in Somalia. Three men have already pleaded guilty to terror-related charges, including providing material support to terrorists.

The indictments said the men traveled to Somalia “so that they could fight jihad” there.

Somalia has had no stable government since 1991, when dictator Siad Barre was ousted from power. A newer secular government has had trouble keeping Muslim militants at bay, and in 2006 fighting with al-Shabaab intensified after Western-backed Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia. U.S. officials say if al-Shabaab prevails, Somalia could turn into a haven for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

In October 2008, 27-year-old college student Shirwa Ahmed of Minneapolis became “the first known American suicide bomber” when he blew himself up in Somalia, killing dozens, according to the FBI.

Since then at least four more men from Minneapolis have been killed in Somalia, according to their families.

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