As jurors deliberate the fate of three men charged with conspiring to support the terrorist group ISIL, Twin Cities Somali community members are bracing for the verdict in a trial that already has created divisions in the community and disturbances in the courtroom.
Abdirahman Daud, 22; Mohamed Farah, 22, and Guled Omar, 21, are charged with conspiring to follow other Minnesotans to Syria between 2014 and 2015 in an effort to join the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The jury completed its first full day of deliberations Thursday afternoon and is expected to resume Friday morning.
At a recent community meeting Daud’s mother, Farhiyo Mohamed, and Farah’s mother, Ayan, said they have felt isolated from friends because people fear they will come under government scrutiny if they lend the families support.
“Since our kids are on trial, many are scared of us,” Mohamed said.
“Some relatives don’t call us anymore,” said Farah, who has two sons in jail. Adnan Abdihamid Farah pleaded guilty in the case before the trial began.
Many young Somali-Americans said the ISIL case has affected their studies and even the atmosphere at their work, but only a few agreed to be interviewed.
Mustafa Mohamed, a student at Normandale Community College and security guard for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, and Ali Saleh, a Minneapolis Community and Technical College student, were close friends of the young men charged with conspiring to join ISIL.
“After they got locked up, the world looks at us different,” Mohamed said. “People say: ‘You people are attracted to weapons. You people are terrorists.’ ”
Saleh said he was working at the Mall of America when a white, middle-aged man “flipped and called me ISIS!”
“I laughed at the time, but it hits me hard,” said Saleh, his voice breaking..
To Saleh, the charges don’t “click” with the friends he grew up with. He recalled a time when he wanted to run away from home because of a video game argument, but the young men urged him to return home and obey his mother.
“They were like mentors,” he said. “They were the ones that would keep you straight.”
Now, Saleh said, he is afraid to speak about terrorism because he might be misinterpreted. “I cannot trust anybody,” he said. “I don’t know if someone has a negative agenda.”
At Da’wah Institute in St. Paul, nearly 100 people — Muslims and non-Muslims — gathered last Friday for a meeting to counter Islamophobia. Leading the discussion was Hassan Mohamud, an imam and law school graduate who was removed from one of the three ISIL case defense teams after he was accused of interfering with the families and legal strategies of other defendants.
“I didn’t teach the prayer of fear,” Mohamud said. “If you talk about Islam, you’re a terrorist.”
A few young Somali-American men who were expected to speak at the event withdrew, saying they feared that the audience might misconstrue anything they said. The government’s use of a confidential informant, plus testimony against the defendants by other Somalis, continues to rankle people.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he worries about what may lie ahead. “The Somali youth will be labeled as potential terrorists no matter where they are [in the world].”
Yousuf Mead of Minneapolis blames a paid government informant for luring the defendants into taking the final steps of flying to California and seeking fake passports, but acknowledges that the young men made a mistake in flirting with Middle East terrorism.
“They had an opportunity to finish school and be productive people in the society. The kids ruined themselves,” Mead said. “We will pray to Allah for their release. They are kids.”
Abdirahim Farah, the 9-year-old brother of defendant Mohamed Farah, said he understands that his brothers are in jail, but didn’t know the reason.
“I want my brothers to come out and play with me,” Farah whispered.