MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota teenager who had been stopped at the airport as he was trying to travel to Syria pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
Abdullahi Mohamud Yusuf, 18, admitted in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis that he had intended to go to Syria last May to join the Islamic State group. He faces a maximum of 15 years in prison. No sentencing date has been set.
Authorities say a handful of Minnesota residents have traveled to Syria to fight with militants in the last year. At least one Minnesotan has died there. In addition, at least 22 young Somali men have traveled from Minnesota to Somalia since 2007 to join the terrorist group al-Shabab.
Yusuf admitted in court that he learned about people who had traveled or wanted to travel to Syria to fight against the regime of President Bashar Assad. Yusuf said he attended meetings in Minnesota last March and April in which participants discussed fighting.
Court documents show Yusuf, who was in high school at the time, applied for an expedited passport shortly after he turned 18 in April and lied about the nature of his travel, telling a passport agent he was going to Istanbul, Turkey, for vacation.
FBI agents stopped Yusuf at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on May 28, and he was arrested six months later.
Yusuf said Thursday that he actually had planned to meet another man, Abdi Nur, in Istanbul, and that the two of them planned to travel to Syria together. Nur, who is also charged in the case, is believed to be fighting with militants in Syria.
Yusuf said another person, who has not been publicly identified or charged, gave him money for his plane ticket.
Jean Brandl, Yusuf's attorney, pointed out in court that the U.S. did not declare the Islamic State group a foreign terrorist organization until just 12 days before Yusuf tried to leave Minnesota.
Brandl said after Thursday's hearing that her client wants to take full responsibility for what he has done and move on with his life.
"What happened back then is not who he is now," she said.
Yusuf has been allowed to stay at a halfway house while his case has been pending, and is allowed to work with a group that promotes civic involvement as a way to keep youth engaged, with hopes of keeping him on a positive track and reintegrating him into society.
That will continue while he awaits sentencing. The program is still in its initial stages, but Brandl said Yusuf will be working with coaches, and hopes to eventually continue his college studies.