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A Minnesota man who as a teen was convicted more than a decade ago in a robbery that left three dead was a "scapegoat" in the case, an accomplice who previously testified against him now says.
Mahdi Hussein Ali was convicted in the fatal 2010 shooting of two clerks and a customer. Ahmed Shire Ali, who was 18 at the time of the shooting, pinpointed Mahdi Ali as the masked shooter who opened fire, in exchange for a plea deal — and a 12-year sentence. His testimony later helped secure Mahdi Ali’s conviction.
Mahdi Ali is currently imprisoned on three consecutive 30-year sentences at the maximum-security Oak Park Heights Prison, about 25 miles east of Minneapolis, according to online jail records.
Ahmed Ali now claims he lied to the court in an attempt to frame Mahdi Ali in order to protect a close acquaintance, who died in recent years from a drug overdose. He didn’t disclose the man’s identity.
"I feel guilty about that," Ahmed Ali told KMSP-TV. "I was protecting someone else. And he [Mahdi] ended up taking the fall for something he didn’t end up doing. … Honestly, I don’t know. I was young at the time. I was young at the time. I had a lot of people in my ear, close family friends, closer than Mahdi. He ended up becoming the scapegoat."
On Jan. 6, 2010, two masked men, one armed with a pistol, entered Minneapolis’ Seward Market shortly before 8 p.m., according to video surveillance footage of the incident. The masked men ordered the store’s clerks to the ground.
A customer, who later stumbled into the store during the robbery, was first shot by the masked bandit. The two clerks were later gunned down.
Anwar Mohammed, as well as the two clerks, Osman Elmi, and Mohamed Warfa, a married father with four children, died in the shootings.
Mahdi Ali and Ahmed Ali, who aren’t related, were arrested within 48 hours after the triple murder.
Under questioning, Mahdi Ali told police he’d been driving around St. Paul and Minneapolis smoking marijuana on the night of the store shooting. He denied any involvement.
"I’m not the one," Mahdi Ali said recently, according to KMSP-TV. “I hope they [the victims’ families] find justice. I hope they find answers. But, I’m not the one.
Ahmed Ali, however, admitted to taking part in the robbery, but told law enforcement Mahdi Hussein was the armed thief who shot and killed the three victims.
A third teen, Ahmed Ali’s cousin Abdisalan Ali, was also questioned in connection to the Seward Market murders. He, too, implicated Mahdi Ali as the masked gunman.
"You got two cousins saying I was with him, and he did it, not framing each other, but rather framing me," Mahdi said, according to KMSP-TV.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over the trial and conviction of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in George Floyd’s killing, ruled Mahdi Ali would stand trial as an adult. He was later sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"My imposing consecutive sentences is my message to future generations that you will not be considered for release no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the change in the law is," Cahill wrote in sentencing documents.
The shooting — and its bloody aftermath — continue to ripple through Minneapolis’ Somali diaspora a decade later.
"It hasn’t been an easy journey,” Ahmed Warfa, a relative of the store clerks killed in 2010. “It hasn’t been an easy 11 years.”
Mahdi Ali’s conviction has been upheld on two separate occasions. By the time he’s scheduled for release, Mahdi Ali will be 107 years old.
"I was labeled a cold-blooded killer," he said. "Someone who didn’t care about what happened. But, I really do pray for them every day."
While incarcerated, Mahdi Ali received his GED and earned a paralegal certificate.
"I would love for him to have a chance to get justice, and for him to have a second chance in life," Sainab Osman, his mother, said.
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