Arizona Daily Star
Saturday August 18, 2018
By Perla Trevizo
Whether Mohamed Abdirahman
Osman is a refugee who lied about terrorist links to get immigration
benefits or if he's been wrongly targeted by a flawed government
investigation that matches the Trump administration's rejection of
certain refugees is being played out in a Tucson courtroom.
here last week illustrated the difficulty in finding facts in the case,
including whether Mohamed Abdirahman Osman is even his real name.
28, is charged with eight counts of making false statements when he
applied for refugee status and legal permanent residency. For the sake
of consistency, the Star is using the name listed on court documents.
government alleges Osman lied about his ties to the terrorist group
Al-Shabaab, his name, his nationality, his father’s name, a brother whom
the government identifies as an Al-Shabaab associate, and that he
presented a fraudulent Somali passport to obtain immigration benefits.
Abdirahman Osman remains detained pending trial after a magistrate
judge ruled last week that although the government did not "prove by
clear and convincing evidence" that he is a danger to the community, it
showed he's a flight risk.
the nature and seriousness of the offense charged, the weight of the
evidence against the defendant and the defendant’s family and community
ties, the court finds that no combination of conditions exist that would
reasonable assure defendant’s appearance at future court proceedings,”
Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Rateau said.
the hearing Osman’s defense attorney, Jonathan Young, told the court
that he will prove his client's real name is Mustaf Adan Arale — the
name the lawyer used throughout the hearing to refer to his client —
that he was born in Somalia, not Ethiopia as the government claims, and
that he was never an active member of Al-Shabaab.
The deadline for a plea in the case is Aug. 31 and the trial is set for Sept. 18.
wife, Zeinab Abdirahman Mohamed, 25, was released on Aug. 10 on her own
recognizance after the judge determined she was not a flight risk or a
danger. She faces three counts of providing false information in support
attended Osman’s arraignment hearing with their four children — they
have a fifth child who lives in Somalia — along with members of the
local Somali community. Osman, wearing a prison jumpsuit and
thick-rimmed glasses, listened through an interpreter and briefly smiled
when he saw his family.
hearing last week was to determine whether Osman should remain in
detention, but it offered an insight into the case if it goes to trial.
together with his wife, fled Somalia after he lost both of his hands
and vision in one eye during a 2010 bomb attack. Then, the couple was
kidnapped by Al-Shabab and held hostage in an abandoned milk factory.
paid $500 to be smuggled to Beijing via Kenya, where he was given a
Somali passport with a visa for China, FBI special agent Benjamin
Trentlage, part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, testified. The couple
lived in Beijing for three years before applying and getting refugee
status to resettle in Tucson in 2014 with their daughter.
has told different stories about what happened, including how he lost
his hands, to different people. And he seems to have issues telling the
truth, Assistant U.S. Attorney Beverly Anderson told the judge.
couple gave differing stories during their interview for legal
permanent residency in 2017, Trentlage said. In the interview, conducted
in English and without an interpreter, Osman told immigration officers
he lost his hands during a bomb explosion at the Bakaara market in
Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, while working nearby. Later, the
couple, along with Osman's father, were kidnapped by the terrorist group
for two to four months until they escaped during fighting between
Somali government forces and Al-Shabaab.
Anderson pointed out Osman didn’t ask for an interpreter nor said he didn’t understand during the interview.
wife gave a similar story about how he got injured, Trentlage told the
court, but said they had been held captive for less than a month, didn't
mentioned anything about her father-in-law and said they were able to
walk out after Somali government forces intervened, which the government
considered to be significant differences in their stories.
a search of the couple's apartment last year, agents found cell phones
and documents, including a type of school report card from Ethiopia with
Osman's name and photo, and what Trentlage referred to as a study
guide. It was a piece of paper with dates, names and cities that Osman
drafted to prepare his wife for her immigration interview.
month later, the FBI returned to the couple's home and Trentlage said
they interviewed Osman in English and he admitted that his real name was
not Arale, gave his father's real name and listed all of his siblings,
including the brother the government says has ties to Al-Shabaab. Osman
also told agents he had been recruited by the terrorist group, although
he didn't become an active member, and that he lost his hands while
handling a homemade explosive in 2009.
prosecution alleges Osman has maintained communication with relatives
considered to be associates of Al-Shabaab and sent back about $10,000 a
year to family since. Anderson, however, said the government cannot
prove without reasonable doubt that the money has gone to fund terrorist
They also couldn't prove Osman had a criminal history, she said, or that he had hurt anybody.
she said the couple had given notice on their Tucson apartment and
bought tickets to Minneapolis, where there's a large East African
population, and that he had the means and capability to obtain fake
documents to leave the country.
the hearing, Young, the defense attorney, asked FBI special agent
Tretlage about his knowledge regarding border disputes between Somalia
and Ethiopia and how Jijiga, the city the government says Osman was
born, is about six miles from the border.
also questioned the government's assertion of his relatives'
connections to Al-Shabaab based on a conviction in absentia in
Somaliland, a region ruled by a government not recognized by the United
States, for their alleged involvement in a 2014 terrorist attack in neighboring Djibouti.
also asked whether Tretlage knew wether anyone had gone to verity his
father's information in Ethiopia. "No," he responded, but said Ethiopian
officials verified Osman's place of birth.
The charge comes as the administration scales down the country's refugee resettlement program.
fully understand, I think, the government's position on refugees,"
Young told Rateau, and clarified he didn't mean Assistant U.S. Attorney
see themselves repeatedly called a disaster . . . They see themselves
compared to poisoned skittles," he said in reference to a 2016 tweet
from Donald Trump Jr. where he compared Syrian refugees to a bowl of
Skittles sprinkled with a few that “would kill you.”
hear wishes that they came from Norway, instead of these scatological
countries. They hear the United States be called a dumping ground, a
migrant camp, a refugee holding facility. And then the government brings
this indictment?" he asked. "This is an attempt to find a terrorist
where there are no terrorists."