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More Details in the FBI's Probe of Ohio Terror Suspect

04/21/2015 | 12:21am US/Eastern
By Matthew Dolan 

COLUMBUS, Ohio--Three months after he returned from training with violent extremists in Syria, a 23-year-old Ohio man hosted a shooting group at a local gun range, federal authorities allege in newly unsealed court papers.

Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud rented a shooting lane in the Columbus area last September, court papers say. When a range officer offered to instruct him and his two associates how to use their borrowed pistol, Mr. Mohamud allegedly declined, implying he could teach the others.

"Organizing weapons training is consistent with individuals who previously obtained training from...training camps to, upon return to their homeland, seek to recruit a group of young male adults in order to lead them to be like-minded jihadist believers prepared to fight," Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Stephen Flowers wrote in court documents.

Mr. Mohamud never launched an attack. But affidavits used to secure search warrants of his Facebook accounts and home provide a glimpse into the monthslong investigation by the FBI into an alleged foreign-trained fighter who hoped to launch attacks in the U.S. at the behest of a radical Islamic cleric.

Mr. Mohamud, a high-school dropout convicted only of skipping out on a restaurant check, was charged last week in federal court with providing material support to terrorists, providing material support to the al Qaeda affiliate known as Nusra Front, and lying to federal agents. He pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for trial in June.

In an interview, his attorney Sam Shamansky said that the indictment against Mr. Mohamud has no evidence that his client attempted to stockpile weapons or had a detailed plan of attack. Mr. Mohamud maintained in conversations with the FBI that he never left Istanbul during the period in which the government says he went to Syria, according to the indictment.

FBI agents involved in the matter declined to comment on the case. Speaking generally, law-enforcement officials in Columbus said the federal agency had a strong working relationship with local residents to combat terrorism and meets quarterly with the area's Somali-American community, one of the largest in the U.S., to discuss security issues.

The FBI first spoke to Mr. Mohamud more than a year ago, but that intervention didn't appear to prevent the native of Somalia from traveling overseas. During the Feb. 20, 2014, interview, federal agents said Mr. Mohamud tried to lie about his identity. He first told investigators he was his older brother, Abdifatah Aden, who had already left the U.S. in 2013 and was believed to be fighting in Syria on behalf of Nusra Front and raising money for the cause, according to court documents.

"When challenged about his truthfulness, he admitted his true identity," Mr. Flowers of the FBI wrote in a court affidavit. It wasn't clear from court documents how agents reacted to Mr. Mohamud's reversal.

In April of last year, two months after his FBI interview, Mr. Mohamud, who had recently become a U.S. citizen, bought a one-way plane ticket to Athens, with a layover in Istanbul. But, according to the indictment, he never got on the flight to Greece. Instead, he allegedly met up with men who took him to Syria. Mr. Aden, the brother, later died in battle in June 2014, prosecutors said.

The documents originally filed under seal in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Ohio provide new details about how the brothers allegedly kept in touch. While Mr. Aden took up arms in Syria, Mr. Mohamud scrambled to send him money and then follow in his tracks.

The FBI also alleges that several people including Mr. Mohamud tried to alter their social-media accounts, including removing photos linking them to extremist groups, to cloak their activities in Syria.

Court documents allege that he also set up a bank account in the U.S. so that other supporters could funnel money through Mr. Mohamud to his brother. He also bought a tablet computer in the hopes of bringing it overseas and giving it to his brother to help with fundraising.

Just before he was to begin fighting in Syria, a cleric allegedly told Mr. Mohamud he should instead go home and launch an attack on U.S. soil. After his return, Mr. Mohamud allegedly told informants he wanted to attack military or police targets.

Write to Matthew Dolan at matthew.dolan@wsj.com

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