Tension in court as 4 Minn. men held on terror charges

Published 9:51 am Friday, April 24, 2015

ST. PAUL — Attorneys for four Minnesota men accused of trying to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group questioned the government’s use of a paid informant, and argued Thursday that the case against their clients is slim.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Becky Thorson found there was probable cause to believe a crime was committed, and ordered the four men to remain in custody while the case proceeds.

They are among six men of Somali descent who were charged over the weekend with conspiracy to support a foreign terrorist organization and with attempting to support a foreign terrorist organization. Authorities allege some of the men made repeated attempts to get to Syria, and had developed a plot to get fake passports and travel overseas through Mexico.

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According to an FBI affidavit, the government’s months-long investigation was aided by recordings made by a man who once planned to travel to Syria himself, but then decided to cooperate.

Thursday’s hearing was for Guled Omar, 20; Adnan Abdihamid Farah, 19; Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, 19; and Hanad Mustafe Musse, 19. Two other men, Mohamed Abdihamid Farah, 21, and Abdurahman Daud, 21, faced hearings in San Diego, where they were arrested.

In ordering the four men detained, Thorson said she was looking at the weight of the evidence and other factors. Her ruling prompted one community member in the courtroom to shout: “You cannot weight anything but evidence, ma’am. We are the community! You should ask us!” He was led from the courtroom.

The hearing was tense for Somali community members. Afterward, Imam Hassan Mohamud said the community is angry, and some blame the informant. He criticized a Department of Justice pilot program designed to stop recruiting for terror groups before it starts, saying it will cause division.

“Some members of the community are looking @ other members of the community (as) spying to each other and sending them, their kids, to jail,” Mohamud said. “That’s why they are all angry. These four, all of them, are innocent until proven guilty.”

The U.S. attorney’s office said the pilot program is an outreach effort that “is and always has been completely separate from the investigative and prosecutorial responsibilities of this office.”

In court, defense attorneys questioned FBI Special Agent Harry Samit about the government’s payments to the informant. Musse’s attorney, Andy Birrell, asked whether his compensation was related to the number of people charged.

Defense attorneys also questioned how the FBI could take the informant’s word when he previously lied about his own involvement. They also asked why only some of his conversations were recorded, and whether it was the informant’s idea to pursue fake passports to get to Syria.