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Tucson immigrants charged with hiding connection to Somali terror group

A Tucson couple was arrested Friday after being indicted on charges that they lied to U.S. immigration officials, including false statements about the husband's connection to a militant Somali group.

Mohamed Abdirahman Osman, 28, and Zeinab Abdirahman Mohamed, 25, were arrested by agents with the FBI and Homeland Security, said Cosme Lopez, an spokesman with the U.S. Attorney's Office. They were indicted on a combined 11 counts by a grand jury.

The indictment alleges that Osman was recruited by Al-Shabab, a terrorist group in Somalia, and was injured while handling explosives, and lied to U.S. officials to cover up his involvement with the group.

Documents submitted by Osman and Mohammad as part of their refugee application, and a later application for legal permanent residency, contained "false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements," Lopez said. 

The indictment alleges that Osman applied for refugee status in August 2013 with U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services officers in Beijing, China, and used an alias, filing his paperwork under Mustaf Adan Arale, and claimed that he was a citizen of Somalia. 

Osman had actually been born in Ethiopia, and had "obtained, and used a passport from the Somali Republic," the indictment read. 

Osman also denied "having a personal acquaintance with anyone who has ever been involved with Al-Shabab, a designated terrorist organization, or any other armed group."

According to the indictment, which had been sealed by a federal judge until after the arrests, Osman admitted that he had been recruited to join Al-Shabaab and moved from Ethopia to the Somali capital Mogadishu at "the direction of Al-Shabab." 

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Al-Shabab was formed in 2006, and became linked with Al-Qaeda, as it grew to control parts of Mogadishu, using the capital city to launch attacks throughout east Africa, including attacks in Kenya. In 2011, the U.S. intervened and established a military presence in Somalia, launching dozens of airstrikes against the group.

The indictment also accused Osman of informing a USCIS officer that he had been injured in an attack by Al-Shabaab at the Bakara Market in Somalia in 2010, but that statement was false and Osman had "sustained injuries in 2009 while handling explosives." 

Osman also faces a count for convincing his wife to make materially false statements. 

Mohamed faces three counts for lying to federal officials on her husband's applications, including lying about her husband's nationality and his name, as well as lying about the "details regarding how her spouse sustained injuries while in the Bakara market," the indictment read. 

The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Beverly K. Anderson in Tucson, Lopez said. 

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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