Days before his April 2015 arrest, Mohamed Farah scoffed at the notion that a mastermind Islamic State recruiter helped spark plans for him and his friends to join the terror group.
Instead, the biggest influence was his friend Abdi Nur, who successfully made it to Syria. And seeing a photo of him on the front lines was what truly compelled him.
“It was like someone butchered my heart or punctured it,” Farah said in a conversation recorded by a paid FBI informant. “That had the biggest effect on me. No video could have done that.”
The second week of trial for Farah, 22; Abdirahman Daud, 22, and Guled Omar, 21, ended with the three men still following along as a former co-conspirator turned informant walked jurors through hours of secretly recorded conversations among the friends in early 2015. The three Somali-American men are accused of conspiring to support ISIL and to commit murder abroad. Abdirahman Bashiir, the government’s star witness in the case, will return to the stand on Monday for what promises to be a lengthy round of questioning by the defense.
Nur, 22, is charged in absentia in the conspiracy for flying out of Minnesota to Turkey in May 2014. Six others have also pleaded guilty. Nur’s connection to his friends back home and news about his new life as a fighter for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) repeatedly surfaced throughout the recordings played during Friday’s half-day of trial.
Though barely audible, jurors could hear his voice at one point in a conversation Bashiir taped of him, Omar and another co-conspirator passing around a phone on a Skype call with Nur.
In the tapes played Friday, Omar proved a frequent source of Nur updates. Nur had apparently been injured in battle “like three times,” Omar said in March 2015, and had been chosen from a group of 50 in his battalion to be groomed as an emir, or leader. Later that month, Bashiir recorded Omar telling him that Nur sent him a link to addresses of 16 pilots involved in airstrikes in Syria that killed friends of theirs who joined ISIL. On the tape, Omar says he admonished Nur for sending him the link, saying it could easily be traced. An angry Nur told Omar that “those are the people whose hands our brothers’ blood is on” but Omar said he tried to delete any trace of the exchange.
“He thinks it’s a battlefield [in the U.S.],” Omar said. “He thinks it’s as easy as it is over there.”
Omar sometimes spoke with a prophetic air, claiming in one tape that an impending war between the Christian and Muslim worlds would end America’s tenure as a superpower. In another, he tells Bashiir that “in 2016 the world is going to change after a Republican takes office. … It’s a done deal.”
The topic of attacks on U.S. soil also resurfaced Friday in other recorded discussions. Daud in one tape suggested that their emir could one day send them back into their home country. Abdirizak Warsame — a co-defendant who pleaded guilty in the case earlier this year — boasted about being able to make homemade rockets. And Farah was recorded as saying he had heard that thousands of ISIL fighters had been sent back.
“You know what they did? They acted like they were Syrian refugees,” Farah said. “Italy, U.K., they just went with the wave.”
Seated with their attorneys, the three defendants wore headphones and read transcripts of the tapes as they ticked along a monitor on Friday. Bashiir’s involvement as an informant in the case stoked division in the Somali community, with families and other supporters saying the men were entrapped. The jury has been instructed to reject an entrapment defense if the government can prove that the defendants were willing to commit the crimes before the informant was used.
Bashiir previously testified that he went to California in March 2015 to meet an undercover FBI agent who they would pass as a source who could get the group fake passports. Word spread quickly among the friends that Bashiir had such a source. On one tape played Friday, Daud called the development “the best news I heard,” asking to see pictures. He and Farah would be arrested April 17 near the U.S. border with Mexico after they drove there with Bashiir to meet the agent.
But for one afternoon weeks before their arrests, the friends sounded hopeful as they both reflected on past attempts and daydreamed about patrolling for ISIL with rifles in tow. The click of a Taser being passed around was heard as Bashiir, Omar and Warsame walked along a Minneapolis lake. Warsame is expected to testify next week and prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Michael Davis on Friday that they expected to rest their case by the middle of next week.
On tape, Warsame sought to quell Omar’s concerns over whether it was wise to again try to leave alongside others now under FBI surveillance. Warsame suggested that perhaps Allah would grant Omar success on what would be his fourth alleged attempt, since it signaled Omar was someone who keeps trying.
“Bro, I’m just trying to get there, bro,” Omar said. “That’s it. Just take me there.”