Federal Case of Columbus Somali Immigrant Frames Civil Liberties Debate.

Listen to the Story

Federal prosecutors won a guilty plea to terrorism charges from a Somali immigrant in Columbus. The Justice Department accused 35 year old Nuradin Abdi of suggesting a plan to attack an unidentified mall during an August 2002 meeting with now-convicted terrorist Iyman Faris and a third suspect, Christopher Paul. Abdi now faces prison time and deportation. WOSU’s Tom Borgerding reports that the Abdi case was watched closely both by experts on international terrorism and by immigrants and new citizens in the the city’s growing Somali community.

Abdi’s Defense attorney Mahir Sherif says his client pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. Abdi was indicted in June of 2004 on four terrorist-related charges. The plea came less than a week before the scheduled start of his trial in federal district court in Columbus. Prosecutors accused Abdi of plotting with convicted al-Qaida terrorist Iyman Faris to blow up a mall on the day after Thanksgiving in 2003. Federal agents arrested Abdi that Friday morning, out of fear that the attack was about to be carried out. Sherif says the plea is acknowledgement of what he called “some facts.” But, Sherif adds his client was worried about a jury’s reaction given the current mood of the country.

Ohio University political scientist and author, Patricia Weitsman monitors goverment prosecution of terror-related cases. She says the Justice Department must take what she calls a “high-profile approach” to such cases.

Weitsman adds that the Abdi case and prosecution of others involving alleged terrorists have the effect of tightly focusing a debate between the need for national security and the constitutional protections of civil liberties.

That debate is played out daily among the growing Somali population in Columbus. Just hours prior to Abdi’s appearance yesterday in federal district court many of those at the Somali Community Association of Ohio at Cleveland and Innis expressed hope he would be found innocent. 20 year old Muna Sheikhabu says ever since nine eleven muslims in the U-S have been subject to more scrutiny and surveillance satrictly because of their appearance she offered a personal example.

Sheikhabu has lived in Columbus for eight years as an immigrant and is seeking citizenship. Sheikhabu and other members of the Columbus Somali community voiced confidence in the U-S justice system even as they lamented Abdi’s fate. Federal Judge Algenon Marbley will sentence Nuradin Abdi later. Prosecutors recommend he be meted a ten year sentence and then be deported back to Somalia.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News.