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ISIS in the Twin Cities

Scott Johnson writes in City Journal:

On June 3, a Minnesota jury returned guilty verdicts against three Somali-Americans who disputed the ISIS-related terrorism charges brought against them by the office of United States Attorney for Minnesota Andrew Luger. Ten defendants were initially charged, but six had already pleaded guilty by the time the trial started. The Minnesota trial represents the largest such case ever brought in the United States, yet the news it generated has been obscured by the June 12 Orlando massacre. 

The case went to trial before Judge Michael Davis in federal district court in Minneapolis on May 9. Davis did an excellent job keeping the courtroom safe and the trial under control. Four or five visibly armed Department of Homeland Security officers patrolled the atrium of the federal courthouse. Officers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms put bomb-sniffing dogs to work in the corridors. While family and friends of the defendants packed the courtroom, Davis enforced strict behavior protocols to prevent distractions and misconduct. These precautions proved their worth several times over. Tensions ran high. Early on, the brother of one defendant was found trying to smuggle scissors with six-inch blades into the courtroom. He had previously been observed photographing the elevators. He was banned him from the courthouse for the duration.

Waiting in the hallway to enter the courtroom one morning, I witnessed a young Somali girl in a hijab pounding on an older woman and cursing at maximum volume over and over, within 50 feet of the jury room. When the girl refused to desist, one of several plainclothes law-enforcement officers attending the trial took her to the floor and handcuffed her. And here I thought I’d seen it all. (The fight was between the mother of a cooperating defendant, who had pleaded guilty, and her daughter, a girlfriend of one of the defendants.)

Over three weeks, the jury heard a massive amount of evidence. Though I had followed the case closely, I wanted to take in the evidence with my own eyes and ears. I found it shocking. Defendants Mohamed Farah, Abdirahman Daud, and Guled Omar made up part of a larger group of young men from the Twin Cities who sought to leave the United States to join ISIS in Syria. When I say young, I mean high school and college age. One of their friends—Abdirahman Bashir—turned informant, while others made it to Syria without being detected or charged in the process. They are all first- or second-generation Somalis who appear to be talented and resourceful young men. They had social lives centered on local mosques. They are all observant Muslims and supplemented their education with Islamic studies. They wanted to live under the caliphate declared by ISIS. They yearned to wage jihad and to die as Islamic martyrs.

The group comes from Minnesota’s large Somali immigrant population, officially estimated at 40,000. The true number must be closer to 140,000. The United States attorney himself has used an unofficial estimate of 100,000 in an agreement he entered into with Somali community leaders. If Minnesota’s Somalians were a city, they would be Minnesota’s third-largest, after Minneapolis and St. Paul. Their numbers grow every year. In September 2015, the House Homeland Security Committee released a study of Americans seeking to join ISIS as foreign fighters. Minnesota, it turns out, sends more aspiring fighters to Syria and Iraq than any other state.

The heart of the government’s case was conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization (by joining ISIS) and conspiracy to commit murder overseas (by fighting for ISIS). In the spring and fall of 2014, the defendants tried unsuccessfully to leave Minnesota for Syria. Farah was one of three Minnesota Somalis intercepted at JFK Airport on his way to Syria that November. He protested to the FBI agents who stopped him that he was simply on his way to vacation by himself in sunny Sofia, Bulgaria.

Continue reading here. Supplimental information at Powerline.

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