News Day: MN guilty pleas on Somalia terrorism / Minneapolis to Najaf / Above average / Health care: Costs, rescissions, reform

Minnesota guilty pleas to terrorism in Somalia Salah Osman Ahmed, age 26, and Abdifatah Yusuf Isse, 25, have pleaded guilty in federal court in Minneapolis to terrorism charges, based on their travel to Somalia in 2007 to fight with Al-Shabaab. Ahmed went to Somalia in December 2007, where he learned to use a machine gun and helped to build a training camp, according to the Star Tribune. He faces a sentence of five to 15 years. Other charges, dropped in the plea agreement, would have carried a life sentence.

Ahmed left the training camp before the U.S. government designated the Al-Shabaab group as a terrorist organization in March 2008. Laura Yuen at MPR sheds more light on Ahmed’s recruitment and travel:

Back in October 2007, while he was living in Minnesota, he said he met “some guys,” as he put it, who were talking about going back to Somalia to fight the Ethiopian soldiers who invaded Somalia. From October to December, they met secretly in Minneapolis.

Ahmed said he knew he would be fighting with Al-Shabaab. That’s the hard-line Islamic group that is creating much of the violence we’re seeing in Somalia today. But back in 2007, the group had some popular support because the fighters were taking on the Ethiopian occupation, and some people saw their cause as nationalistic. …

He said this group of men “collected money together.” There’s been speculation that a recruiter financed these trips, but his statement today indicated that at least this first group of men who left in 2007 were either making money or raising money to pay for the trips.

Minneapolis to Najaf The Minneapolis city council will vote Friday on a proposal to make the Shiite holy city of Najaf, in Iraq, the tenth sister city for Minneapolis, reports the Star Tribune. Long-time Minneapolis restaurauteur Sami Rasouli is a native of Iraq, and returned there in 2004 to help rebuild the country. Working with the Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project, Rasouli has “developed letter exchanges among students, raised money for water filtration systems at 10 schools or hospitals in the Najaf area, and arranged shows of Iraqi art.” Najaf, located about 100 miles south of Baghdad, has a population of about 500,000.

The TC Daily Planet published three of Rasouli’s reports from Iraq, Freezing in Iraq, Food and water in Iraq, and Making a living in Iraq in 2008. Rasouli founded and volunteers for the Muslim Peacekeeper Team-Iraq.

Above average All the children in Lake Woebegon are above average, and right here in the Twin Cities, our civic spirit is above average, too. The Star Tribune reports that we are number one in volunteerism — for the third straight year. As a state, we come in third, behind Nebraska and Utah. The recession may actually boost volunteerism, with more people in need of help and more unemployed people with time on their hands to volunteer.

If all this good feeling leaves you with an urge to volunteer and no idea where to go, check out Hands On Twin Cities, which offers a searchable, sortable database of volunteer opportunities. (For volunteer opportunities around the state, or in other states, look at Volunteer Match.)

World/National News

Health care: Costs, rescissions, endangered reform Bloomberg News produces the latest analysis of the amount of money health care is already costing: $2.5 trillion today, compared to $914 billion in 1995, when the Clinton administration lost its attempt to reform the system. Moreover, today there are 50 million uninsured, compared to 40 million in 1995. Premium costs are projected to rise 9 percent next year, while wages rise less than one percent: Since 1994, premiums have risen 119 percent, though inflation was only 28.5 percent.

Baseline Scenario reports that health insurance policy rescissions, “insurers’ established practice of looking for ways to invalidate policies once it turns out that the insured actually needs significant medical care,” calling attention to This American Life’s report:

The story describes a couple of particularly egregious cases, such as a woman who was denied breast cancer surgery because she had been treated for acne in the past, and a person whose policy was rescinded because his insurance agent had incorrectly entered his weight on the application form.

The Washington Post reports that the Senate is near a compromise on health care that would eliminate any mandates for employers to provide health insurance and scrap any meaningful public option in favor of “coverage cooperatives.” The Senate “compromise” is carefully tailored to appease Republicans (and the insurance industry). Senate majority leader Harry Reid said his responsibility is to get a bill to the floor that will get 60 votes. Blue Dog Democrats in the House also continue “negotiating” to weaken the plan.

MinnPost links to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s helpful 42-page side-by-side comparison (PDF) of the various health care reform proposals, updated July 24.

Iran: Abusing, releasing, raiding dissidents Accounts of abuse — from ripping out fingernails to forcing prisoners to lick dirty toilet bowls prisoners to death — have enraged Iranians, reports the New York Times. The Iranian government has now released 140 political prisoners, but anger continues to spread as more deaths are reported in blogs and confirmed by families.

Thursday is a day of unusual symbolic importance because it will be 40 days since the shooting of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman whose death during a demonstration was captured on video and ignited outrage across the globe. The 40th day marks an important Shiite mourning ritual; similar commemorations for dead protesters fueled the demonstrations that led to the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

BBC estimates that about 200 protesters remain in prison.

War Reports

Iraq Coalition of One. That’s what the U.S. forces in Iraq will represent in two days, after British troops withdraw. The New York Times reports that the Multi-National Force-Iraq may have to change its name.

Iraqi forces raided the Ashraf camp for an exiled Iranian opposition group in Iraq’s Diyala province, reports BBC.

A local Iraqi police captain also told AFP news agency about 200 camp residents had been injured, along with 60 Iraqi police and troops.

A later BBC report said that seven residents of the camp were killed during the raid. The camp has existed since the days of Saddam Hussein, and the current Iraqi government would like to see it emptied. Iranian refugees in the camp fear being forced back to Iran.

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