MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minneapolis man was ordered detained Wednesday after authorities say he got angry and used his Twitter account to threaten law enforcement officers after some of his close friends were arrested for allegedly trying to join the Islamic State group in Syria.
Mahamed Abukar Said, 19, is charged with one count related to threatening a federal law enforcement officer and one count of using interstate communications to make threats to injure.
At a hearing Wednesday in federal court, U.S. Magistrate Judge Franklin Noel found probable cause for the case to proceed and said it would be referred to a grand jury. He also ordered Said, who was arrested Friday, to remain in detention — noting that Said's criminal record dates back to when he was 15 and includes eight instances in which he failed to make his court appearances.
According to an FBI affidavit, Said used his Twitter account last week to threaten to kill a federal official and demand that the men be freed. In one tweet, Said allegedly wrote, "the Feds are getting two choices. Either they gon free my bros or they gon have a massacre happen then they gon take me too," the affidavit said.
FBI Special Agent Matthew Hamel testified Wednesday in U.S. District Court that Said admitted to posting the tweets that authorities viewed as threatening, saying he was upset when his close friends were arrested and decided to vent on social media.
Defense attorney Christopher Madel said his client is a full-time student, holds a job as a security guard, and the threats were not legitimate.
Said was charged last week, days after the arrests of six men who authorities say were intent on going to Syria. Those six men have each been charged with conspiracy to support a foreign terrorist organization and attempting to support a foreign terrorist organization.
The arrests of those men, all of Somali descent, created tension in Minnesota's Somali community, the largest in the United States. Since 2007, more than 22 young Somali men have traveled from Minnesota to Somalia to join the militant group al-Shabab. Authorities have also said a handful of Minnesota residents have traveled to Syria to fight with militants.
The six men were charged after a 10-month investigation that was aided by recordings made by a man who once planned to travel to Syria himself, but then decided to cooperate.
Court documents filed in Said's case allege that in addition to the threats, he also posted a picture of the informant and text that contained profanity and the word "snitch." Hamel testified Wednesday that Said denied posting tweets about the informant.
Madel said someone else could have been using Said's account, and pointed to one tweet that was posted after Said's arrest. He also said authorities can't be certain whom the alleged threat was against.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman disagreed, and said it's clear Said was targeting those who are prosecuting his friends. Altman is a federal prosecutor from Wisconsin, whose office is handling the case to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
Said's younger sister, Ayan Said, testified her brother jokes a lot and "wouldn't hurt a fly." Said's father, Abukar Said Ahmed, also said after the hearing that his son was not serious and "he's not normal at that time."
Ayan Said testified her brother is not religious, did not attend mosque or pray, and drank alcohol and smoked.
"He's cool. He's the best older brother I could ever ask for," she said.
Said's friend, Ifrah Hashi, said after the hearing that she's known Said since they were both 5, and he's not capable of making threats. She said Said was merely hurt that his friends were arrested.
"The way he went about it was very immature," she added. "I don't agree with him at all for that."
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