NEW YORK Two Swedish citizens who U.S. prosecutors say fought alongside the Islamist militant group al Shabaab in Somalia in battles to take control of the country's capital of Mogadishu were sentenced to 11 years in prison on Friday.
Ali Yasin Ahmed, 31, and Mohamed Yusuf, 33, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in Brooklyn, New York, in light of their guilty pleas in May to conspiring to provide material support to al Shabaab.
Prosecutors said Ahmed and Yusuf abandoned their homes in Sweden in 2008 to travel to Somalia, where they were born, to undergo military and doctrinal training with al Shabaab.
The militant group, which seeks to overthrow Somalia's Western-backed government and impose a strict version of sharia, or Islamic law, has links to al Qaeda and has carried out attacks in Kenya and Ethiopia.
After receiving training, Ahmed and Yusuf travelled to Mogadishu, where they fought in a series of brutal battles alongside other U.S. and European fighters who had joined al Shabaab to take control of the city in 2009, prosecutors said.
Ahmed and Yusuf continued to train and fight with al Shabaab, prosecutors said, and Yusuf appeared in a propaganda video filmed in Mogadishu urging people to fight on behalf of the militant group.
The men and a former British citizen, Madhi Hashi, were arrested in August 2012 by authorities in Djibouti after illegally crossing the border from Somalia on their way to Yemen to join al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, prosecutors said.
Their lawyers say the men were tortured while in custody in a secret prison in Djibouti over the next several months.
They were subsequently turned over to U.S. authorities for prosecution, though their case had no allegations they intended any direct harm to the United States.
On the eve of trial, Ahmed, Yusuf and Hashi pleaded guilty in May as part of a deal that would ensure they faced a maximum term of 15 years in prison each rather than the 30-years-to-life sentences they had faced.
The men face deportation following their release from prison.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York)
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