WASHINGTON - A Minnesota judge has handed jail sentences to nine men, most of them Somali-American, who conspired to provide material support to Islamic State.
Eight of the men received prison terms this week adding up to more than 140 years. The ninth was sentenced to time already served.
In the final day of sentencing Wednesday, Senior Judge Michael Davis gave lengthy sentences to three men convicted of conspiring to aid the militants and to commit murder abroad.
Davis sentenced Guled Ali Omar to 35 years while Abdirahman Daud and Mohamed Farah each received 30 years in prison. All three expressed remorse in the court but the judge gave them the sentences recommended by the prosecution.
Omar, 21, was identified as the “emir” of the group during his trial in May. He was the only one to take the stand in his defense, saying the term did not necessarily mean that he was the leader of the group.
During their trials, the government presented secret recordings of the defendants discussing plans to travel to Syria and join Islamic State.
"This community has to understand there is a jihadist cell in this community. Its tentacles spread out,” Judge Davis said after sentencing Farah.
Farah’s relatives cried outside the court alleging unfair sentencing. His mother, Ayan Farah, said she was "shocked” at the sentence.
“The judge insulted the people, destroyed our image. He said to a 22-year-old boy you have to admit being a terrorist, and he is not a terrorist,” she said.
“I still don’t believe my children are terrorists, there are no terrorists in this country, there are Muslims who are black who have had civil war in their country who were brought here to raise their children…. They are black and Muslim, that is why they were targeted.”
Farah, Omar and Daud refused to plead guilty earlier this year and instead took their cases to a jury trial.
Six other defendants who entered guilty pleas were sentenced Monday and Tuesday. They included Farah's brother Adnan Farah, 20, who received 10 years in prison. Hanad Muse and Zacharia Abdurahman also received 10-year sentences.
Hamza Ahmed, an ethnic Oromo and the only one of the nine who is not an ethnic Somali, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Abdirazak Warsame, 21, got 30 months in prison while Abdullahi Yusuf, 20, was sentenced to time serviced. Both have cooperated with authorities and testified against their former con-conspirators.
Prosecutors said the nine defendants were a group of friends who began conspiring to join Islamic State militants in the spring of 2014. Some of their friends made it to Syria, but the nine who were prosecuted did not.
Zacharia Abdurahman, Mohamed Farah, Hand Muse and Hamza Ahmed were stopped at JFK airport in November 2014 while attempting to travel to Istanbul on their way to Syria.
Abdurahman’s father, Yusuf, expressed mixed feelings after the sentencing of his son.
“What I’m glad mostly is that he is here, he is alive, he is not in Syria and die overseas, as a parent I’m feeling sad about the long sentence and what he will have to go through in the prison,” he told VOA.
He said he is proud that his son took “responsibility,” apologized to his parents and the court for his actions. He said his son understands the gamble he has taken on his life and wants to make amends.
“He said he will be a mentor to the children, he is articulate, and he can be a mentor to the youth,” Yusuf Abdurahman said about his son.
Community leader Jibril Afayre said the community will be glad that “it’s over” and said he hopes lessons were learned.
“It has been a roller coaster, we hope the parents and the community will not go through such ordeal in the future and we can put this behind us,” he told VOA.
“We hope it will be a deterrent to the would-be recruiters and to the radicalized individuals.”
Abdi Mahamud contributed to this story from Minneapolis.