A federal judge will consider dozens of pretrial motions in the case of seven young Somali-American men charged with conspiring to support the terror group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis will weigh whether the government should be compelled to divulge the name of a confidential informant, a one-time member of the alleged conspiracy whose testimony is expected to be a major factor in the trial.
Defense attorneys argued that they should be allowed to interview the informant, who so far has been paid more than $41,000 by the FBI, in preparation for trial. Prosecutors disagreed in court documents, saying that lawyers for the men will get their chance when the informant takes the stand to testify.
Davis is also expected to rule on a joint motion again seeking the defendants’ conditional release while they await trial. The federal judge has denied previous petitions for pretrial release, saying the men were a danger to the community and flight risks, while insisting that he would be open to alternatives to detention.
The government says that for more than a year, the defendants were engaged in a haphazard plan to join ISIL, a State Department-designated terrorist organization, which has proclaimed a caliphate, or Islamic-run state, over territory it has seized in Iraq and Syria. A 10-month investigation into the group’s activities culminated in April with arrests of six of the men — four in the Twin Cities and two in Southern California.
The seven defendants are: Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, Hanad Mustafe Musse, Guled Ali Omar, Hamza Naj Ahmed, Abdirahman Yasin Daud, and brothers Adnan Abdihamid Farah and Mohamed Abdihamid Farah.
According to charging documents, for months the men met in secret and communicated surreptitiously with one another and ISIL fighters overseas, as they crafted their plans to reach Turkey, from where they hoped to cross undetected into Syria.
There they would have joined thousands of other Western fighters, mostly from Europe, who have flocked to join Sunni militants fighting against rebel groups and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
The case has once again thrust Minnesota into the national spotlight, where it has been painted as a hotbed of extremist recruiting.
Authorities say that at least 22 young Somali men have left Minnesota since 2007 to join Al-Shabab, Al-Qaida’s offshoot in Somalia. At least nine are dead, while several remain at large.
So far, nine men have been charged in connection with the alleged conspiracy and community leaders have been told that there are at least 100 local young men in the terrorism recruiting pipeline. Several men and women from the Twin Cities have already joined the extremist group, according to authorities and media reports.
Despite increased interdiction efforts, recent media reports suggest that more young men may have slipped out of the country and joined ISIL.
Earlier this week, Davis also ruled against a motion arguing that the defendants were exercising their freedom of religion and that the mere act of traveling to ISIL-controlled territory in the Middle East, without taking up arms on behalf of the group, didn’t amount to providing material support.
Davis disagreed, writing that “the offense conduct charge involves more than mere travel to Syria.”
He continued: “The charged offense conduct is that defendants sought to join ISIL and fight with ISIL.”
Davis also ruled against a defense motion arguing for the dismissal of financial aid fraud against Musse and Ahmed, concluding that a “person of common intelligence would reasonably understand that one could not use financial aid funds to purchase a plane ticket in order to commit a felony offense.”