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By Todd Melby
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Authorities unsealed terrorism-related charges Monday against eight defendants they said recruited young Somali-American men to return to their homeland to fight for an Islamist militant group.
The charges said men were recruited in Minneapolis mosques to fight for al-Shabaab, which the United States accuses of being al Qaeda's proxy in the Horn of Africa nation.
In all, authorities have charged 14 people with recruiting, training or financing travel for young Somali immigrants in Minneapolis, which is home to some 50,000 Somalis.
About 20 young men, all but one of Somali descent, have left the Minneapolis area since September 2007 to train with and fight for al-Shabaab, authorities said.
U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said all were recruited to fight in Somalia, and there was no indication any had been directed to come back to the United States to launch attacks on U.S. soil.
"The sad reality is that the vibrant Somali community here in Minneapolis has lost many of its sons to fighting in Somalia," Jones said.
"These young men have been recruited to fight in a foreign war by individuals and groups using violence against government troops and civilians," he said.
Five of those charged in a superseding indictment are not in custody and are believed to be outside the United States.
Some recruits from a Minneapolis mosque were persuaded in 2007 to return home to fight Ethiopians, prosecutors said in a statement. U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops invaded neighbouring Somalia in 2006 to try to prop up a government there and end 18 years of civil war.
At least three of the Minnesota recruits have died, including Shirwa Ahmed, a Somali-American who participated in one of five simultaneous suicide attacks in Northern Somalia, prosecutors said.
Two others were shot in the head, possibly by other members of al-Shabaab, authorities have said.
"It's very disturbing and very bothersome for young kids to get misled and put them in harm's way in Somalia," said Omar Jamal, director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Centre.
Western security agencies say Somalia is a haven for Islamist militants plotting attacks in the region and beyond. Violence has killed more than 18,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and driven 1 million from their homes.
"An indictment shows the authorities are on the case. It gives us hope the recruiters will be brought to justice," said Abdirzak Bihi, a spokesman for the families of some of the accused recruits.
(Writing by Andrew Stern; Editing by Peter Cooney)