A dispute between family members of one of three men accused of plotting to join ISIL and the mother of a co-conspirator who was about to take the witness stand Tuesday prompted a rare visit to the gallery by the judge.
Before Abdirizak Warsame would later be sworn in, Judge Michael Davis approached both his mother, Deqa Hussen, and the mother of defendant Abdirahman Daud to warn against further confrontations after Hussen reported a lunchtime encounter to authorities.
“I know this is hard on you,” Davis told Daud’s mother, Farhiyo Mohamed. “But I can’t have any disruptions in the courtroom. … I can’t have you confronting anyone else.”
Mohamed later denied confronting Hussen.
Daud, 22, Guled Omar, 21, and Mohamed Farah, 22, each stand accused of charges that include conspiracy to join the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and to commit murder abroad. Davis later told the marshal to remove anyone who caused additional disturbances and vowed to bar them from the building for the remainder of the trial.
Warsame, one of six who pleaded guilty in the case, was the third key government witness called to testify about his involvement in a plot to travel to Syria. Testimony earlier this month from Abdullahi Yusuf was also interrupted when a spectator told his mother that her son was a spy.
Warsame testified Tuesday that he was appointed emir, or leader, of the circle of friends in May 2014 to replace Omar, who allegedly tried unsuccessfully that month to drive to Mexico. At the time, Warsame said, he didn’t yet have a passport and would be tasked with helping others get their own.
“They chose me to be a leader and help all the other brothers who were also going to be left behind,” Warsame said. “… And join them if they made it.”
Davis briefly took over questioning after growing frustrated with a prosecutor’s attempt to ask what Warsame thought he would do in Syria. The government added charges of conspiracy to commit murder abroad — which carries a possible life sentence — last October. Warsame told the prosecutor he believed he would be killing at war because it’s “kill or be killed.”
“Killing what? Animals or what?” Davis later asked. “And who were they?”
After Warsame rattled off a list of groups ISIL considered enemies, Davis told him he sounded knowledgeable. “So let’s get that out,” Davis said.
Warsame will continue testimony Wednesday. Prosecutors say they intend to rest the government’s case by midday before turning the case over to the defense.
Focus on informant
The day began with Abdirahman Bashiir, the co-conspirator who turned paid FBI informant, concluding testimony that spanned all or part of five days. He again found himself at the center of debate over whether his work with the government was entrapment.
Though Bashiir admitted that the FBI devised the plan to tell the others that he had a contact who could make fake passports that could get them out of the country, he said it was a plot that tapped into plans discussed when Bashiir was once a co-conspirator in 2014.
“If the idea was already there and I just came in and said I found a guy, I don’t think that’s really encouraging,” Bashiir told Bruce Nestor, Daud’s attorney.
But until Bashiir told the group of his “golden ticket” passport connection, Nestor argued, nobody had the means to acquire the fraudulent travel documents.
Nestor also asked Bashiir how he was supposed to react if anyone wanted to back away from the plot. If anyone wanted out, Bashiir said, he was told to let them leave. But if anyone wanted to postpone plans, Bashiir said he was instructed to persuade them otherwise.
Nestor recalled a March 2015 conversation between Bashiir and Omar, when Omar wanted to push their plan to leave the country from spring to winter. On a tape, Bashiir said that if they didn’t leave now they’d “all get locked up.” It was a window of time Bashiir described as the group’s “last and only chance.”
A month later, federal authorities arrested Daud and Farah with Bashiir in California after they drove to meet an agent who was pretending to be the passport source. Omar was also among those arrested in Minneapolis that day.
Bashiir’s testimony came amid the backdrop of families and supporters claiming that the defendants were entrapped by Bashiir, whose pay and benefits during his cooperation totaled roughly $119,000. The testimony also pulled back the curtain on the 20-year-old’s relationship with FBI agents he later considered friends and who motivated him to want a career in law enforcement.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter walked Bashiir through a series of allegations against the three defendants. It was Daud and Omar who at times discussed bringing ISIL fighters into the United States, Bashiir said. Farah once talked about killing an agent, he said.
“Did you encourage or help anyone in the case that hadn’t already expressed a desire to travel to Syria to join ISIL?” Winter asked.
“No,” said Bashiir, who had the same reply when asked if he “forced” either Daud or Farah into the car bound for California in April 2015.