Hanad Musse, one of seven defendants charged with conspiring to leave the United States to fight alongside terrorists in Syria, is expected to plead guilty in federal court in Minneapolis, according to documents filed Tuesday.
Plea negotiations are also underway for at least two other defendants, and agreements could be reached within the next week to 10 days, according to multiple sources.
One of those defendants, Zacharia Abdurahman, is expected to sign a plea agreement with prosecutors Wednesday and has agreed to denounce terrorism, his father said in an interview Tuesday.
“He will denounce the terrorists and ISIL,” Yusuf Abdurahman said, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the government-designated terror group his son is accused of attempting to support. “He will say that he doesn’t want to participate in terrorism and will advise the other kids that this is an evil organization.”
Abdurahman added that he has spoken with the parents of brothers Adnan and Mohamed Farah, two other co-defendants.
“I told them that I know this is heavy on all of us, but at the end of the day you don’t want the government to come up with more charges,” he said.
No hearing date has been set for Abdurahman’s plea, he said.
Musse, 19, will appear before U.S. District Judge Michael Davis at 10 a.m., Wednesday to enter the guilty plea. If his plea is accepted, he will become the second defendant in the larger alleged conspiracy to plead guilty to conspiring to support terrorism. There is no mandatory minimum sentence for defendants found guilty of providing material support to terrorists. Musse could face up to 25 years in prison, but defendants in cases with similar circumstances have been sentenced to about a quarter of that time in return for their cooperation and providing information about other conspirators.
Abdullahi Yusuf pleaded guilty to similar charges in February. Yusuf, who is now cooperating with the government, awaits sentencing.
Musse’s attorney, Andy Birrell, declined to comment.
The men are among about a dozen young Somali-American men from the Twin Cities who authorities say plotted to join ISIL. Musse, like the others, initially pleaded not guilty after being arrested last April and was scheduled for trial in February 2016. Some men involved in the most recent plot successfully left the country in mid-2014. Two were reported killed in Syria.
The plea deals may signal momentum for the prosecution in these cases, although federal authorities acknowledged that terror groups are still actively recruiting in the Twin Cities.
Musse’s fellow co-defendants, Zacharia Abdurahman, brothers Mohamed and Adnan Farah, Abdirahman Daud, Guled Omar and Hamza Ahmed still await trial.
Musse and three other co-defendants tried to leave the country through New York’s JFK Airport in November 2014. They were questioned and sent back to the Twin Cities, where they were questioned again.
According to transcripts of recordings made by a confidential informant who was once a co-conspirator in the case, Musse expressed concern that the arrest of Hamza Ahmed could mean he would implicate the others. “If he gives a deal right now, we can get locked up the next day,” Hanad Musse said to the FBI’s confidential informant last April, shortly before the group’s arrest.
According to another recording, Omar, 21, telephoned Musse after he was stopped by agents in Minneapolis and urged him and the others to abort their plans to avoid getting caught.
“I said ‘Hanad, please don’t go. Please don’t do this right now, don’t do this …’ ” Omar recounted in a conversation secretly taped by the informant. “He’s like, ‘Yo what the hell’s your problem bro, you a punk man!’ I was like ‘fine then. You listen to me, I just got caught up.’ ”
In another conversation taped by the informant, Musse told the others that if their friend Hamza Ahmed, who was handed the same charges in February, would refuse to cooperate with the FBI, there remained a window of opportunity. “That means we have a good time for us to work this all out and complete the mission,” he said.
In hearings requesting Musse’s release, attorney Birrell portrayed his client as a victim of manipulation and that the real criminals in the case never set foot in the courtroom.
“What I see here is an attack on the people of the United States,” he said. “My client is an American. He’s a lot like my son — eats at McDonald’s and plays video games. He is not the enemy. The enemy is outside the U.S. and attacking our children through the electronic medium.”
Musse’s father, Mustafa Musse, has been among the most vocal critics of the government’s case. In a May interview with families of other defendants at a St. Paul mosque, Mustafa Musse said the charges against his son were fabricated as a way to prove the need for huge domestic security programs.
“Going to another country is not a crime,” Musse said at the time. “ … You are telling me that he is a terrorist? … That would never happen. He would never harm American soil. This is where he was born.”