A Minneapolis jury found all three defendants in Minnesota’s ISIL recruitment trial guilty on Friday at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis.
Here’s a summary of the case that was before the jury:
Abdirahman Daud, 22, was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, arrived in Minnesota at age 9, and became a gifted high school athlete and youth mentor in Minneapolis.
In April 2015 he was arrested with Mohamed Farah after driving to California, allegedly in an effort to obtaining fake passports to travel to Mexico. A government witness said he boasted of having ISIL contacts who could help his friends travel from Turkey to Syria.
Mohamed Farah, 22, the oldest of six children, helped raise his siblings and do the family grocery shopping.
In November 2014, he was one of four co-defendants stopped by FBI agents in New York as they tried to board planes bound for Europe on route to Turkey. In audio recordings, Farah was caught saying he would kill an FBI agent and defended an ISIL video in which a captured Jordanian pilot was burned alive.
Guled Omar, 21, one of 13 siblings, took a keen interest in social justice issues as a teenager and testified that he led a religious studies group that included discussions about the Syrian civil war. His older brother left Minnesota in 2007 to fight for the Somali extremist group Al-Shabab, and Omar himself made two unsuccessful attempts to leave the U.S. in 2014, though he testified that they were for vacations. Government witnesses described him as the “emir,” or leader, of the group of young men during the earliest phase of the alleged conspiracy.
All three are charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, which carries a potential sentence of 20 years in prison, and conspiracy to commit murder abroad, which carries a potential life sentence. They are also charged with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization.
In addition, Daud and Farah are charged with perjury, and Farah is charged with lying to FBI agents. Omar is charged with attempted financial-aid fraud for trying to use his student loan money to finance his travel to Syria.
Although the three defendants went to trial together, each presented his own defense, and the jury has been ordered to return separate verdicts for each.
THE BACK STORY
The three came under government surveillance about two years ago as part of “Operation Rhino,” an FBI investigation into terrorist recruitment among young Somali-Americans in the Twin Cities.
One member of the original group, Abdirahman Bashiir, eventually became a paid government informant, covertly recording their conversations and telling them how to obtain fake passports in California from a source who was actually a federal agent.
Prosecutors ultimately charged 10 young men from the group with terror-related crimes. Six pleaded guilty at different points in the last year, and a seventh is believed to have successfully fled the country for the Middle East. Several other friends from the group also made it abroad and were not charged, most dying in battle.
The three-week trial presented 26 government witnesses and roughly 350 exhibits, primarily snippets of conversations recorded by Bashiir.
Evidence for the prosecution: Key witnesses included Bashiir, who, in addition to taping conversations, drove Daud and Farah to California to meet an undercover agent who would supposedly sell them fake passports. Two other former friends, who both pleaded guilty to conspiracy, testified about the group’s attempt to leave the U.S. to fight and kill for ISIL.
Evidence for the defense: Omar was the only one of the three defendants to take the witness stand, testifying that his recorded statements were merely boasts in an effort to look tough in front of his friends. Defense attorneys argued that much of the case would never have come together without the use of a paid informant, and that another key witness had a history of making contradictory statements.
Summation by the prosecution: Tape recordings and witness testimony show that the three young men were part of a conspiracy that involved persistent, “wholehearted” efforts to join ISIL. Once they made it to Syria, they knew they would be asked to kill on behalf of the group.
Summation by the defense: The men simply wanted to help fellow Muslims who were suffering atrocities in the Syrian civil war, and watching ISIL recruitment videos is not the same as conspiring to join the terrorist organization. Meanwhile, without the use of an informant, the April 2015 plot to get fake passports and fly to Syria from Mexico wouldn’t have been possible.
Twelve adults from Minnesota, seven women and five men.
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis has presided over several previous terror-related federal trials, and he laid down firm rules for the current proceedings. In a series of pretrial hearings, he took special care to make sure the defendants understood the charges against them and their defense strategy.
Davis has also helped pioneer the concept of alternative sentencing for such cases, with a “disengagement and de-radicalization program” that included evaluations by an expert from Germany.
In a 60-page packet of instructions on Wednesday, Davis told the jurors they have the right to distrust testimony from any witness shown to have testified falsely. He also told them the defendants can be found guilty of conspiracy even if they didn’t succeed in accomplishing their plan.
Davis also addressed the issue of entrapment, telling jurors that the law allows the government to use “undercover agents, deception and other methods to present a person already willing to commit a crime with the opportunity to commit a crime.”