Jurors began deliberating Wednesday afternoon in the federal trial of three Twin Cities men charged with trying to join and kill for the terrorist group ISIL after lawyers delivered final arguments capping three weeks of dramatic testimony about passports, airports and bloody recruitment videos.
A jury of 12 — seven women, five men — must now decide whether Abdirahman Daud, 22; Mohamed Farah, 22, and Guled Omar, 21, participated in a conspiracy to follow other Minnesotans to Syria between 2014 and 2015, and whether they intended to murder on behalf of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Late Wednesday, the jury broke after roughly two hours of deliberation and will resume Thursday morning.
“Everyone in a trial has a defined role,” said Glenn Bruder, Omar’s attorney, in his closing argument. “As jurors, your role is to set aside your fears and your prejudices and to decide this case based on the evidence.”
Speaking a day after closing remarks from attorneys for the other two defendants, Bruder responded to volumes of secretly recorded conversations and accusations that the defendants’ consumption of brutal ISIL propaganda videos helped form their intent to murder under the group’s command.
Bruder urged jurors to discount the boasts and bluster captured on tape by a conspirator turned paid FBI informant. Omar, he said, “is like the kid who brags about making out with the girl at the party, only to have his friends find out he didn’t know her.”
The trial is the result of a yearlong FBI investigation of Twin Cities Somali-Americans suspected of trying to join ISIL, which resulted in terror-related charges against 10 young men. Six subsequently pleaded guilty and one succeeded in leaving the United States. Several others who were not charged also maintained contact with the conspirators back home, according to testimony.
The investigation is just the third ISIL-related case to go to federal trial and the nation’s largest to date.
Omar is charged with trying to travel to Syria twice in 2014 with plans of first crossing into Mexico and using a fake passport to complete the trip. He also is charged with attempted financial-aid fraud for trying to finance his travel with student loan money.
Farah was one of four men stopped in November 2014 after taking Greyhound buses to New York, where they tried to board planes with layovers in Turkey. Farah and Daud were arrested in April 2015 inside a warehouse near the Mexican border after driving there with an alleged conspirator turned FBI informant, Abdirahman Bashiir, who had promised a contact who could furnish fake passports that would get them into Mexico.
On Wednesday, giving the government’s last word, Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Allyn denied that Bashiir’s involvement in the fake passport plan amounted to entrapment. U.S. District Judge Michael Davis later instructed jurors to reject any claim of entrapment if they believed the government proved that the men were willing to commit the crimes charged before Bashiir’s involvement.
Allyn showed jurors transcripts from several recordings played at trial, including one in which Daud relayed instructions from an ISIL fighter on what to do once they reached Turkey, where they were to cross into Syria.
“Bashiir’s fake passports may be what gets them out of the country, they may be what gets them out of Mexico, but it’s Daud’s words that get them into Syria and get them to be ISIL fighters,” Allyn said.
Daud and Farah are also charged with lying to federal grand juries, and Farah is charged with lying to FBI agents. All three men face additional charges of attempting to provide material support to ISIL.
Unlike attorneys for Daud and Farah, Bruder on Wednesday did not suggest that Omar was entrapped or “ensnared,” but said instead that he has maintained he never committed a crime as part of any conspiracy. There clearly was some agreement among Omar’s friends to make it to Syria — including some who succeeded — but Omar wasn’t part of the plan, he said.
“Here Guled Omar’s actions are clear and unambiguous,” Bruder said. “He turned down the passport offer and he never left Hennepin County.”
Omar testified last week that his 2014 attempts to travel to California were, respectively, a vacation to cap his first year of college and a trip to visit a girl he met online — which Allyn called lies on Wednesday. She later argued that Omar didn’t need to get in the car for San Diego to be part of the conspiracy and that he rejected the passport plan out of concerns over trying to leave with others already under FBI surveillance.
In his instructions to jurors, Davis said that to be found guilty of a conspiracy, the members needn’t join it at the same time and that the government does not need to prove that the conspirators actually succeeded in joining ISIL or committing murder abroad.
Daud, Farah and Omar face potential life sentences if found guilty of the murder conspiracy charge.
Before stepping away from the lectern Wednesday, Allyn argued against considering their taped remarks to be merely tough talk.
“Let’s get one thing straight about boasting: They all agree they want to be ISIL fighters,” Allyn said. “That’s just further evidence of intent: I so badly want to be an ISIL fighter, I so badly want to kill people.”