Three Twin Cities men accused of conspiring to leave the country to fight alongside terrorists in Syria will ask for their pretrial release in federal court Wednesday, arguing that each would remain under strict supervision while attending religious, school and community activities.
Prosecutors counter that while well-meaning, the community plans are unlikely to overcome the “remarkable persistence” of the young men who spent nearly a year allegedly conspiring to support terrorism.
In motions, attorneys and family members say that if Hamza Ahmed, 20, Zacharia Abdurahman, 21, and Hanad Musse, 19, are released on bail from federal custody, each would remain under strict supervision of their extended families and mosques.
But, the federal government countered in documents filed Tuesday, none of those efforts worked before.
“Release from custody now would give any one of these defendants yet another chance to join their co-conspirators in Syria and Iraq,” prosecutors wrote in a response to the motions. “Jobs, family, school and attendance at mosque did not stop the defendants from trying to flee before and will not stop them from trying again.”
In a conversation secretly recorded by an FBI informant, Abdurahman bragged in March that he and his friends were “the hot boys on the block.” The comments were made in a cellphone conversation he and co-defendant Guled Ali Omar were having with alleged ISIL fighter Abdi Nur, who made it out of Minnesota last spring. Abdurahman also said to Nur, according to documents, “We’re not too far, bro, we gonna be with you, bro. Soon. In [the afterlife] or [this world], bro.”
Prosecutors say the three are part of more than a dozen Somali-American men and women who conspired to leave the country and provide support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL.) Ahmed was arrested in February, while Musse and Abdurahman were arrested in April. In detailed proposals for their release, the parents of the defendants, along with community and religious leaders, urge closely monitored reintegration into the community rather than jail time.
“While we obviously do not condone the conduct of which Mr. Ahmed is accused, we believe that even if he is adjudicated guilty of any or all of these charges, the optimal approach for public safety and maintenance of community trust is to focus on Mr. Ahmed’s capacity for rehabilitation,” wrote Sheikh Abdisalam Adam, board chairman of the Islamic Civic Society of America.
Other release plans encourage releasing Musse to the care of an aunt under restricted telephone and computer use, only leaving home for worship, legal and medical reasons, basketball and exercise. A release plan for Adburahman includes a schedule of religious teachings, physical labor and teaching, coaching and supervising younger children, as well as college courses and other activities.
“My family and I were devastated when we learned of Hamza’s removal from a flight bound to Turkey in November,” Ahmed’s father, Naji Ibrahim, wrote in an affidavit, adding that immediately afterward, they held family councils, spoke with community leaders, regularly brought him to the mosque and required that he continue attending classes at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. They would continue the same formula, he wrote.
‘They cannot change you’
In his memo, Luger countered that while well-meaning, the community plans are unlikely to overcome the “remarkable persistence” of the young men.
The government cites conversations between Abdurahman and a confidential informant in which they discuss government efforts to deradicalize another co-conspirator, Abdullahi Yusuf. Yusuf pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to ISIL and was later placed in a halfway house with the aim of eventually reintegrating him into society, part of a nationally watched experiment in deradicalization. He was kicked out of the halfway house and sent back to prison in April after authorities found a box cutter in his room, documents revealed this week.
In a recorded conversation, Abdurahman tells the informant that the other conspirators are “hopeless” and will “straight up serve time.” He allegedly added: “They know they cannot change you,” documents said. “Because you’re an adult, you know.”
Citing Abdurahman’s statements, Luger wrote that the government “takes no issue with the well-meaning organizations and individuals” arguing for the defendants’ release, but maintains that the young men themselves can’t be trusted.
“Indeed, there is no evidence that the defendants are seeking intervention — rather, it is being foisted upon them by other well-intentioned individuals,” Luger wrote.
Also appearing in court on Wednesday is Mahamed Abukar Said, who was arrested in April and charged with tweeting threats federal officials, including Luger. The south Minneapolis man pleaded not guilty to the charges, with his attorney arguing that his statements didn’t constitute a “true threat” and therefore protected as free speech.
Staff writers Paul McEnroe and Libor Jany contributed to this report.