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Minnesota Islamic State Trial Goes to Jury

Combo photo of Somali-Americans: (L to R) Abdirahman Daud, Mohamed Farah and Guled Omar, who are accused of allegedly planning to join Islamic State in Syria.
Combo photo of Somali-Americans: (L to R) Abdirahman Daud, Mohamed Farah and Guled Omar, who are accused of allegedly planning to join Islamic State in Syria.

A jury in Minnesota is deliberating the case of three Somali-Americans facing several charges, including conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State and conspiring to commit murder outside the United States.

After the prosecution and defense concluded their closing arguments and rebuttals Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis read instructions and told the jury of seven women and five men to reach a "just verdict," to rely on evidence and to conduct their deliberations without prejudice.

Mohamed Abdihamid Farah and Abdurahman Yasin Daud, both in their early 20s, and Guled Ali Omar are among a group of Somali-American men the FBI tracked over a period of months starting in March 2014, when one member of the group aroused suspicion when he applied for an expedited passport to travel to Turkey, but was unable to answer basic questions about his planned trip.

During the trial the government relied on the testimony of three key witnesses. Abdirahman Bashir, a paid FBI informant, told the court he plotted along with the defendants to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State militant group. Abdullahi Yusuf and Abdirizak Warsame, two of six men who pled guilty to the charges, agreed to testify against their former friends.

The government also played to the jury audio recordings of the men allegedly discussing travels to Syria.

Defense lawyers tried to counter that testimony by arguing that the FBI informant entrapped the defendants, encouraging them to engage in the incriminating recorded conversations. The defense witnesses included one of the defendants, Guled Ali Omar, who told the jury that the men were not serious when they were recorded talking about traveling to Syria. He said, "We all boast."

The other two co-defendants, Mohamed Farah and Abdurahman Daud, decided not to testify.

Mothers ‘anxious’

The case has divided not just the Somali community, but families and relatives. The parents of the defendants say they are "anxious" about which way the verdict will go and whether the all-white jury can give the men a fair hearing.

"These are white jurors, no Somali, no black person, no Muslims. Anyone who heard the case, on the air, will be scared when they hear ‘terrorists'; these people are susceptible when it comes to terrorism," Farhiya Mohamud, mother of Daud, told VOA Somali after the case was handed over to the jury.

"Our religions are different. This is about religion. … Jihad is in the Quran, but if distorted it can be interpreted in any way. Allah knows how it will go, but I'm anxious," she said.

Mohamud said lawyers for her son worked hard and did everything in their power to defend the men.

"They urged the jury not to rush to judgment, not to be influenced by fear. I have confidence with the lawyers, but whatever happens is Allah's will," she said.

Ayan Farah, mother of Mohamed Farah, said she, too, is anxious and feels the case could go either way. It's 50-50," she told VOA Somali.

Farah indicated that if her son is found guilty, that will not be the end of the story.

"Until we get justice we will not give up. We are allowed to take appeals three times, and we will go all the way to the Supreme Court. But if it ends here, and our kids are let go and they come home, that is all we want."

Jury deliberations continue Thursday.