October 16, 2009
St. Paul, Minn. — He was a grinning social butterfly, and by some accounts, a skilled flirt -- not a trait typically associated with the most pious Muslim men.But Cabdulaahi Faarah was also opinionated, according to friends and acquaintances. And his outspoken views in support of the Somali extremist group al-Shabaab shocked those who knew him in Minnesota's Somali-American community.

Many believe Faarah, 31, was one of five men involved in a cross-country road trip last week that has gotten the attention of federal authorities. The driver of the car, Abdow M. Abdow, was charged this week in St. Paul of lying to federal agents investigating the case of about 20 Minnesota men who allegedly left for their native Somalia to fight with a terrorist group.

An affidavit filed this week in Abdow's case identifies one of the passengers in the car as "Adaki." It is a unique nickname by which many Somali-American community members knew Faarah.

Three sources, including two acquaintances and one close friend, have told MPR News they think Faarah was one of the first Somali-American men to travel to their homeland, presumably to fight. Some believe he was injured there. He came back to Minnesota with combat scars, according to a friend who requested anonymity because she didn't want to betray his trust.

It's unclear when Faarah traveled to the East African country, but he is believed to have returned to the U.S. before the young "missing men" from Minnesota garnered headlines. Since his return, he told others he was convinced he was being tracked by the FBI and was on the federal no-fly list.

The FBI would not confirm whether Faarah was in Abdow's rental car when it was pulled over by a Nevada state trooper Oct. 6. According to a criminal complaint against Abdow, the driver, two of his passengers were seen two days later at the U.S.-Mexico border crossing near San Diego. Authorities have not said whether the passengers successfully entered Mexico, or if they were detained. "I have seen him transition from a fun-loving young man who does not hold a particularly strong political views on anything, to a pious man."

- Abdi Aynte- Some have speculated that the men were trying to go to Somalia by way of Mexico.On the surface, Faarah seemed like a typical Somali-American man in Minnesota. He drove cabs for a living, he played soccer and made friends easily. On his Facebook page, Faarah identified himself as a 2000 graduate of Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis. That means he would have been classmates with Shirwa Ahmed, who authorities believe carried out a suicide bombing in Somalia last fall.Abdi Aynte, a former Twin Cities journalist who now lives in Washington D.C., said he didn't know Faarah well. But even from a distance, Aynte began to notice changes in how Faarah dressed and carried himself over the past few years."I have seen him transition from a fun-loving young man who does not hold a particularly strong political views on anything, to a pious man ... who seems to hold very strong views on Islam," said Aynte. "The transition he went through also shaped his views on what's going on around the world, and maybe what's going on in Somalia."Faarah began to wear white robes seen more commonly in Arab countries, another sign that he was becoming more devout. And according to others, he began to challenge friends who publicly condemned the violent and abhorrent actions of al-Shabaab, the terrorist group that the Minnesota fighters allegedly joined.This summer, he chastised the close friend because she was participating in a rally this summer against the suicide bombings carried out by al-Shabaab.He got into this whole attack mode," she recalled. "He said, 'You don't understand anything about religion, you need to slow down.' I said, 'I don't have to understand religion to know it's not OK for people to bomb innocent people or to cut people's hands off to punish people.'"

But the source said he always delivered his opinions with a smile.As recently as a month ago, two sources have told MPR News Faarah began to lash out against the Somali president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who was at the time planning a visit to the Twin Cities.Although Ahmed is a moderate Islamic scholar, Faarah called him an "infidel," according to the sources.When they pressed him for an explanation as to why he was living in the U.S. if he held such radical views, he told them he wished he could go to Somalia. But, he told them, he believed he was being closely watched by federal agents and said he had to surrender his passport.The sources said they didn't want to be identified in this story because they didn't want to attract attention to themselves during a highly-sensitive investigation. One said he feared he would be targeted by Shabaab sympathizers.MPR News tried calling Faarah on his cell phone, but the call went directly to his voice mail. His friend says he hasn't been answering his phone for several days.The friend, who learned of last week's road trip only after it made the news, also speculated that Faarah was not planning a trip to Somalia when Abdow's car was pulled over in Nevada last week. She thought Faarah was simply running away. ..Sources