Before Abdirahman Bashiir helped the FBI build its case against his friends who plotted to fight alongside the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), he helped one make his successful 2014 exit from the country.
Bashiir’s passenger on the ride to the Twin Cities airport: a cousin and best friend whom he one day planned to join.
“If you go over there and you think it’s true jihad, then I’m going to come later on,” Bashiir recalled telling Hanad Mohallim, who was later reported killed in battle.
Bashiir’s highly anticipated testimony filled two federal courtrooms in Minneapolis in a way not seen since last week’s opening of the trial of three men accused of conspiring to fight and kill for ISIL.
Guled Omar, 21, Abdirahman Daud, 22, and Mohamed Farah, 22, did not react as Bashiir — the government’s star witness — pointed them out from the witness stand. Prosecutors say the three and Bashiir, 20, were part of a circle of friends who made several attempts to go to Syria in 2014 and 2015. Bashiir’s paid work secretly recording conversations with co-conspirators would later help build a case against the three that could put them in prison for life.
On the stand, Bashiir, dressed in a black suit and tie, spoke softly as the packed courtroom of onlookers carefully followed along. He traced his first thoughts of radicalism to when he was in ninth grade while living in California before he moved to Minneapolis in 2012. He said he came to find encouragement from Mohallim and brothers Hamsa and Hersi Kariye, another pair of cousins who moved to Canada before also joining ISIL in 2014.
“Don’t let the caravan leave you,” Bashiir said was the message from Hirsi Kariye before he left. The Kariyes also reportedly died in battle.
Through Mohallim and another cousin, Bashiir began to meet a group of friends who he said later became his co-conspirators shortly after he moved to the Twin Cities. Bashiir identified Douglas McCain — the first American killed fighting for ISIL overseas — as a family friend whom he met while living in San Diego around 2005 or 2006. Bashiir said he was with Mohallim years later in Minnesota as his cousin made plans to travel with McCain to Syria.
Soon after Mohallim left, Bashiir said that one of his new friends, defendant Omar, said he looked sad — “like somebody left you.” Later, Bashiir said he and Omar soon began scouring social media for traces of his cousin. It didn’t take them long to find an image of Mohallim — his face covered, holding an AK-47 near an iPhone and several rocket-propelled grenades.
Bashiir will resume testimony Thursday morning.
‘World is against us’
On Wednesday, U.S. Marshal Sharon Lubinski said the Marshals Service is “definitely” looking into an account by Mohamed Farah’s father, Abdihamid Yusuf, that he and several others were confronted by a man on an elevator Tuesday. Yusuf said he and a group that included relatives of Daud and Omar were on an elevator with a man who told another rider that “the Muslim people were going to lose” and that they “need to learn the Bible.”
“We’re feeling kind of like the whole world is against us,” Yusuf said. “We’re facing a racial issue, a religion issue.”
Later, before Bashiir took the stand, the father of Yusuf Jama — a co-conspirator who successfully made it to Syria and was killed in 2014 — revealed that another of his sons, Mohamed Osman, had died in Somalia fighting for Al-Shabab in 2012.
Jama’s father, Bashi Ibrahim, described through an interpreter a phone call he received in June 2014 after Jama went missing. Jama didn’t say where he was, Ibrahim said, but caller ID signaled that he was speaking from Turkey. Jama told his father that he had a place to stay and money for food. He would later learn in June 2015 that Jama had died, Ibrahim said.
Prosecutors say Omar’s first attempt to leave the country was in May 2014, when he attempted to drive with Jama and Bashiir to California and then cross into Mexico to fly overseas. Omar’s family stopped him from getting in the rental car, while Jama later took a bus to New York and flew to Turkey a week later.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ruled that the government can introduce evidence that Omar had driven two men, including Osman, to the airport in 2012 so they could fly to East Africa and join Al-Shabab. Omar was stopped trying to leave for Africa in 2012 but never charged.
On Wednesday, before he left the stand, Ibrahim picked up a color photo of his son Jama that had been shown as evidence.
“Can I take this with me?” he asked.
“The government will make a copy for you,” Davis said.