Three Somali-American friends were found guilty on Friday of federal charges that they tried to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State, a plan that prosecutors said unfolded through propaganda videos and social media exchanges, and while they played basketball and paintball.
The verdicts against the three men — Guled Omar, 21; Abdirahman Daud, 22; and Mohamed Farah, 22 — came after an emotional 17-day trial in which onetime friends from Minnesota’s large Somali community testified against one another, family members squabbled in the hallways and spectators were occasionally ejected from the courtroom.
On Friday, the three defendants — who had all pleaded not guilty — sat impassively in dark suits as a court clerk began to read a litany of “guilty” verdicts, the most serious being conspiracy to commit murder overseas. They were also convicted of conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization.
The sobs of family members broke the silence. One woman, weeping, rushed from the courtroom, and others used their colorful head scarves to wipe their eyes and cover their faces. As the three men were led from the courtroom, Mr. Farah waved to the relatives and supporters in the gallery.
The convictions capped an investigation that began in 2014 and has led to six other young men pleading guilty to terrorism charges, and once again shined a harsh light on radicalization among young men in the country’s largest Somali community. Law-enforcement authorities have said that more than 20 young men from Minnesota have left to join the Shabab militant group in Somalia and that more than 15 have tried or succeeded in leaving to join the Islamic State.
At a news conference, United States Attorney Andrew M. Luger called the case “one of the most important trials” in recent years, one that illuminated the problem of terrorism recruiting “in our own backyard.”
“They were not misled by a friend or tricked into becoming terrorists,” Mr. Luger said. “Rather, they made a deeply personal decision. They wanted to fight for a brutal terrorist organization, kill innocent people and destroy their families in the process.”
Federal officials also rejected criticisms of one of their witnesses, a friend of the men named Abdirahman Bashir, who worked as a paid informant for federal investigators and provided hours of audio recordings of the defendants. At one point, when they were planning to reach Syria by first crossing into Mexico, one defendant said he wanted to “spit on America” at the border crossing, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
Some Somali community members and relatives of the defendants have criticized Mr. Bashir’s role, suggesting the defendants were entrapped. Prosecutors rejected that claim. “This conspiracy began back in 2014,” Mr. Luger said. “The informant Bashir did not work with the government until early 2015. These people have been long involved with this conspiracy.”
Prosecutors accused the men of being part of a larger group who met to plot ways to get to Syria. In his closing arguments, the assistant United States attorney, John Docherty, said the three were “exceptionally persistent” and “exceptionally violent.”
A lawyer for Mr. Daud, Bruce Nestor, suggested that an appeal could be filed.
The verdict was not much of a surprise to Burhan Mohumed, 26, a friend of the defendants who had been banned from the courthouse by the judge. He called the process “purely political.”
“I left a little hope that they wouldn’t be convicted on a conspiracy to murder charge,” he said. “I didn’t think they had enough evidence to convict them on that. I think that was an overreach.”
During the trial, the defense argued that the three young men had been manipulated by the F.B.I.’s informant, and attacked the credibility of the members of the group who earlier pleaded guilty and testified for the government. In addition to the six who have pleaded guilty to various charges, a seventh man charged is believed to be in Syria.
Outside the courtroom, Omar Jamal, a Somali community activist, worried that the Somali community would find little solace or justice in guilty verdicts handed down by an all-white jury that was shown violent Islamic State propaganda videos.
“This decision will reinforce the perception in the community that the system is rigged,” Mr. Jamal said.
But after the verdicts were read, Judge Michael J. Davis thanked the jury, saying, “You have come back with a fair and just verdict.” As the jurors left the courtroom, the three young men looked toward the gallery at a row of female relatives.
He laid out the details for sentencing, engaging in a brief colloquy with each defendant. They would be able to read pre-sentencing reports, he said, before being sentenced.
“Do you understand what the verdicts were?” Judge Davis asked Mr. Farah.
“Yes sir,” Mr. Farah responded quietly.
“Do you have any questions of me?”
“Not at this time sir.”
Source: New York Times