Mohamed Amiin Ali Roble, the young I-35 bridge collapse survivor thought to have used thousands of dollars in settlement money to travel to Syria and join ISIL, has become the 11th Twin Cities man charged with providing support to the terror group.
Roble was 10 years old when he became one of 145 people injured in the August 2007 bridge collapse. He collected $91,654 in settlement money on his 18th birthday. According to federal charges filed Wednesday, those funds financed his 2014 travel to join the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and helped pay for cars and weddings for fellow jihadists in Syria.
Federal authorities believe that Roble, who previously lived in south Minneapolis, is still alive in Syria.
The charges are part of an ongoing FBI investigation into terrorism recruitment in the Twin Cities Somali-American community. Nine other young Twin Cities men await sentencing after being convicted on charges related to their own attempts to join ISIL abroad.
Until Wednesday, Abdi Nur, who is Roble’s uncle, was the only man in the case charged in absentia after making it to Syria. According to testimony at the May trial of three co-defendants, Nur is believed to have since been killed while fighting for ISIL, although his death has not been publicly confirmed.
Roble, 20, is charged in the complaint with conspiracy to provide material support to ISIL, for travel preparation in August 2014, and with providing material support to the organization when he allegedly crossed into Syria in December 2014.
Passing out money like ‘candy’
Roble’s name first surfaced during the weekslong federal trial of Abdirahman Daud, Mohamed Farah and Guled Omar — the only three co-defendants to go to trial.
According to a signed affidavit by FBI special agent Daniel Higgins, Roble attended meetings with other co-conspirators where they discussed joining ISIL in Syria. Abdirahman Bashiir, a co-conspirator turned FBI informant, later told investigators that he and others from the group knew Roble was awaiting the settlement money, which came from three lawsuits filed by his parents after the bridge collapse.
Roble and other siblings on the bus earned structured settlement annuities from the state of Minnesota, and from both a contractor and consulting engineering firm that worked on the bridge.
After he received his money in August 2014, Roble opened two bank accounts and successfully applied for a passport that he said would be used to travel to China for study.
Roble’s family could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Nicknamed “Rose” by his friends, Roble flew with his mother to China in October 2014 — first stopping in Beijing before making his way to Wuhan. Earlier that year, another co-defendant, Adnan Farah, also received a passport he said he would use to travel to China, but his family confiscated it when it was delivered to their home.
Roble’s overseas trip occurred a month before five others, since convicted, were stopped from boarding flights in New York and San Diego.
While in China, Roble made two trips to Turkey, according to court documents. First, in November, Roble flew to Istanbul and back in the same day. Roble again traveled to Istanbul on Dec. 27, 2014, and never returned, Higgins said.
According to Higgins’ affidavit, an ATM card associated with Roble’s checking account was used roughly 45 times after he traveled to Istanbul. Between December 2014 and March 2015, those withdrawals totaled more than $47,000 and all came from near Gaziantep, Turkey — about 35 miles from a border crossing into Syria popular with “jihadist-oriented travelers,” Higgins said.
Roble’s debit card was also used to buy clothing, sporting goods and electronics in Gaziantep before he traveled to Kilis, about 40 miles away from the ISIL stronghold Aleppo.
According to trial testimony, Roble kept in touch with friends back home and his deep pockets became the source of banter among co-conspirators. In conversations secretly recorded by Bashiir, Omar described Roble as passing out money like “candy” in Syria. Omar said Roble purchased cars for fellow ISIL fighters and paid for several weddings.
Abdirizak Warsame, who pleaded guilty in the case in February, told investigators earlier this year that he had seen photographs of Roble “in a desert setting,” according to Higgins. In some photos, Warsame said, Roble is seen carrying an assault rifle and in others a black ISIL flag. He also said he saw a photograph with Roble and Nur together in Syria.
Higgins wrote that agents found in May 2015 that both Nur and Roble used the same Internet Protocol address to access their respective Facebook and iTunes accounts. They again did so in August 2015, one of the most recent dates in which Nur has been mentioned as alive.