The former Edison High School theater student had changed his Facebook name to “Mujahid Ibrahim Abu Tuabah.” He wrote reverently of four Twin Cities friends who had joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and boasted that the terror group “will never be defeated.”

Asked online if he was ready for jihad himself, he paused: “I have to make my faith stronger if I want to die as a martyr,” the Minneapolis 19-year-old wrote, likely unaware that he was corresponding with an undercover New York officer.

Two years later, he is still in Minneapolis and, according to interviews and court records reviewed by the Star Tribune, one of at least a half-dozen Minnesotans at the center of ongoing FBI investigations into ISIS support.

The cases in­clude a 35-year-old fa­ther of four al­leg­ed­ly en­listed to help edit a popu­lar ISIS propa­ganda mag­a­zine, a Sauk Rapids hack­er re­port­ed to the FBI by fel­low hack­ers trou­bled by his boasts of ji­ha­dist con­nec­tions, and a south met­ro ju­jit­su instruc­tor who helped ra­tion­al­ize su­i­cide at­tacks for a man since con­victed on ter­ror­ism charges in In­di­an­a.

More than a year af­ter the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment com­pleted its land­mark pros­e­cu­tion of 11 young Twin Cities men — the larg­est ter­ror­ism con­spir­a­cy case ever charged in the Unit­ed States — the re­cords show that the FBI is still prob­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of home­grown ter­ror­ists in the state.

Sup­port ISIS ‘till we die’

De­tails out­lined in newly un­sealed FBI search war­rant ap­pli­ca­tions of­fer a timeline spanning ISIS’ rise as a gris­ly ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­za­tion through today’s inspired, and sometimes directed, domestic attacks by its devotees. Across Min­ne­so­ta, agents have searched homes, sift­ed pri­vate so­cial me­di­a mes­sages and scanned elec­tron­ic de­vices for evi­dence of plans to trav­el over­seas, re­tal­i­ate against a federal judge or other­wise help so­licit terrorism world­wide.

“We are going to con­tin­u­al­ly be pressed with this is­sue of in­di­vidu­als, of­ten very young, who are em­pow­ered through tech­nol­o­gy to break fed­er­al laws … with the click of a but­ton,” said William Bra­niff, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the University of Mar­y­land’s National Consortium for the Study of Ter­ror­ism and Re­sponses to Ter­ror­ism.

The Star Tribune is not naming the man behind the “Tuabah” account because he, like the other newly discovered FBI targets, has not been charged with a crime.

Most of the suspects hit the FBI’s radar based on their online activity. In Tuabah’s case, a New York undercover officer shared concerning online comments with the FBI in 2015. According to FBI search warrant affidavits, Tuabah told the officer that he had “connections” in ISIS’ ranks who relayed news from the battlefield. Among them was a “teacher” who “taught him all he knows” before he left Minnesota, according to the officer’s account of a phone conversation.

His friends could be among the at least eight Minnesotans now thought to have joined ISIS abroad — seven have been disclosed by law enforcement in recent years, and the Star Tribune reported this year that a St. Louis Park college student allegedly abandoned his family while visiting relatives in Morocco in 2015.

Records show that federal magistrate judges in Minnesota approved at least two searches of Tuabah’s social media accounts throughout 2015. In private messages, according to the records, Tuabah told one woman that he wanted a wife who “supports isis with me till we die.” He also asked a man about the cost of airfare from Egypt to Turkey “for a friend.”

It’s unclear if the FBI con­tacted Tuabah. Reached by phone, the man sim­ply re­plied, “No com­ment” and hung up.

In other cases, digital trails threatened to go cold.

Late last year, the FBI identified a suspected ISIS militant from overseas called “Mu’as­sad Sharq Afriqiya” who used Facebook to contact possible recruits. One alleged target was a 35-year-old Minnesota father of four who, until March, worked at a local com­muni­ty health cen­ter. The FBI also suspected that the Minnesotan used up to 15 Twitter accounts and freely posted his own pro-ISIS imagery on Facebook.

According to an FBI agent, the Minnesotan expressed an affinity for both Al-Shabab’s media wing and the ISIS magazine Dabiq. Afriqiya, in the first of 48 Facebook messages captured by the FBI, introduced himself as a fellow Somali and inquired about the man’s skills with editing photos and videos and translating English. He replied that he was “very good” at trans­lat­ing as “that’s my job.”

“Good. So you can help us with trans­la­tion,” said Afriqiya, allegedly referring to the Dabiq magazine.

“Leave ev­er­y­thing Eng­lish to me,” the Minnesotan replied.

In a pe­ti­tion last year to keep the docu­ments sealed, pros­ecu­tors disclosed that an under­cover a­gent had con­nected with the Minnesotan on­line and de­scribed the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as on­go­ing. Records show the FBI re­ceived a PDF file with the re­sults of the search war­rant for the ac­count in Jan­u­ar­y. But an FBI a­gent wrote that the Facebook exchange ended with Afriqiya and the Minnesota father planning to continue their conversation on an “en­crypt­ed mo­bile messaging” ap­p.

‘Plan … Patience … Attack’

Kar­en Green­berg, di­rec­tor of the Center on National Security at the Ford­ham University School of Law, said that ISIS’ territorial losses could curb its ability to attract new foreign recruits and leaves uncertain how many supporters will still be willing to commit violence in its name at home.

“Re­mem­ber, ISIS’ big thing was to re­cruit to the ca­li­ph­ate and now they don’t have a ca­liph­ate,” Green­berg said. “It may ac­tu­al­ly make it less pow­er­ful in terms of what it can in­spire.”

But authorities are still watching those once interested in following ISIS overseas for signs they may heed its calls for bloodshed.

“Historically, not just in the U.S., but globally, there have been cases where individuals who have aspired to travel and fight are prevented from doing that … and they have acted locally instead,” said Craig Lisher, an FBI spokesman. “From the FBI’s perspective, we have to be vigilant in all of these cases and investigate these subjects until they no longer present a threat.”

The most recent local case to be unsealed spawned from tweets by a south metro jujitsu instructor responding to the November 2016 sentencings of nine area men convicted of trying to join ISIS: “It takes 0 discipline and coordination to make a sign and yell slogans,” wrote “Ibrahim,” a Muslim convert who moved to Minnesota from Arkansas in 2010. “That’s why it yields small results. Plan … Patience … Attack.”

FBI agents looked for evidence that Ibrahim threatened Senior U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, after a subsequent tweet referenced the judge’s history overseeing terrorism cases.

On Facebook, agents meanwhile found references to clerics popular with the global jihadist movement and posts wishing death on a person who reported another user to the FBI: “May she choke to death on the filth that spews from her mouth.”

The FBI said Ibrahim also maintained an online kinship with Marlonn Hicks, a Chicago-area man who pleaded guilty last year to explosives charges. Authorities say Hicks expressed interest in joining ISIS in 2016 but also mused about coordinating attacks across the U.S. But first, authorities say, he sought guidance from Facebook friends like Ibrahim: “My question is aren’t suicide belts and vests a sure ticket to hell??”

Ibrahim allegedly told him that “they are permissible in certain circumstances” and sent YouTube links of lectures justifying suicide attacks. Hicks replied: “Wow.”

In a brief phone interview with the Star Tribune, Ibrahim said he has not been contacted by authorities but learned of the FBI probe from acquaintances who were interviewed by agents. The experience caused him to “watch my mouth what I say more online,” said Ibrahim, who said he converted to Islam while in prison on weapons charges in 2003.

“But it’s kind of weird as a Muslim when I see that a Nazi person can say whatever they want on the internet and it’s … freedom of speech,” he said.

Ibrahim denied that he would ever encourage anyone to “do something outrageous to any American citizen,” citing his own citizenship and relatives here.

“If there’s a terrorist and I think someone is going to hurt people, I can do something,” he said. “I’m a trained martial artist. I’ll try to stop them.”


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