Zacharia Abdurahman, one of several local Somali-American men accused of plotting to travel abroad to join the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is expected to plead guilty to terror charges, according to court documents filed on Wednesday.
Abdurahman, who recently turned 20, is scheduled to change his plea to guilty Thursday in a federal court hearing after accepting a plea agreement, in the hope that will persuade U.S. District Judge Michael Davis to be more lenient at sentencing time. He would become the third Minnesotan to plead guilty in the internationally watched terrorism conspiracy case.
The terms of the agreement are not known.
Prosecutors say that Abdurahman was part of a conspiracy to travel to Syria to join ISIL militants fighting there. The group reportedly met at least 10 times, starting in spring 2014, to plan their escape.
The arrests in April of six of the alleged conspirators — Abdurahman, Hanad Musse, Guled Omar, brothers Adnan and Mohamed Farah, and Abdirahman Daud — marked the culmination of a 10-month investigation. A trial date has been set for February.
According to authorities, Abdurahman was intercepted before boarding a Moscow-bound flight at New York City’s JFK International Airport on Nov. 8, 2014. From there, they say, he planned to travel to Istanbul and, eventually, Syria.
To buttress their case, prosecutors also pointed to a series of postings on his Facebook page, which included a photograph of Anwar al-Awlaki, a controversial U.S.-born Muslim cleric and Al-Qaida sympathizer who was killed in a drone strike in 2011.
Abdurahman, who was working as a security guard and attending community college, was arrested by federal agents in his home in Columbia Heights on April 20. He was charged with conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization and a related charge, and has been held in Sherburne County jail.
Plea negotiations are also underway for several of the remaining defendants, family members say.
In an interview last week Abdurahman’s father, Yusuf, told the Star Tribune that his son would “denounce the terrorists and ISIL” and agreed to work to dissuade Muslim youths from joining the extremist group.
Earlier this month, another defendant, Hanad Musse, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to similar charges, telling the court that he’d envisioned himself as a “freedom fighter” battling the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. He is expected to be sentenced later this year.
Another defendant, Abdullahi Yusuf, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in February and turned state’s witness. He is awaiting sentencing.
Staff writers Paul McEnroe and Abby Simons contributed to this report.