Defense attorneys for seven suspects charged with supporting terrorism are arguing that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is not a terrorist organization because it operates a government and regulates services for citizens living under its control in Syria.
In one of several motions filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, the attorneys argued that despite its reputation for brutality, ISIL carries many characteristics of a government that tends to day-to-day business and that therefore criminal charges against the defendants are too broad.
“While the group has adopted harshly violent and repressive tactics, and engages in military and insurgency attacks against the Syrian and Iraqi armies, it has also embarked on a systematic process of civilian governance over the eight to 10 million people with the territory it controls,” attorneys said.
The statutes under which the defendants are charged prohibit providing support under the direction or control of a terrorist group. The attorneys argue that when a terrorist group controls an entire territory, simply being in that country would effectively become, under the current charges, support to the terrorist group. But when services are provided, it’s no longer possible to describe that territory as being part of a terrorist state.
“Mere travel to Syria, or willingness to ‘join’ ISIL, cannot constitutionally be equated with material support. Accordingly, the material support statute is void,” the attorneys argued.
In April, six of the seven defendants in the case were arrested by FBI agents following a 10-month investigation. No trial date has been set. A hearing on motions is scheduled Sept. 2 in front of U.S. District Judge Michael Davis.
Other motions included a request to dial back a heavy security presence at the trial because the attorneys said it could negatively influence a jury. Current hearings have a large contingent of police and Homeland Security officers, and at least one bomb-sniffing dog.
“If allowed, this extraordinary display of security would be present from the moment jurors arrive at the courthouse until after they leave, serving as a constant reminder, not just of the fact that Defendants are accused of a crime, but of the fact that they are accused of a crime related to terrorism,” the motion stated. “ … The security appears not to be designed to protect against potential danger posed by the accused but, rather, perceived danger from members of the Somali community who are not accused of any crime.”