Judge: Man accused of trying to go to Syria to remain held

AP News
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Posted: Jun 11, 2015 5:56 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge ruled Thursday that a Minnesota man accused of making two separate attempts to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group should remain in custody, saying the 21-year-old was a flight risk and no conditions of release could guarantee the public's safety.

Mohamed Abdihamid Farah was one of six friends arrested in April and charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Farah was also charged with two counts of attempting to provide such support and one count of lying to the FBI.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter said Farah was a longstanding member of the conspiracy and had been helping others in their travel attempts since at least last spring. He argued Farah should remain in custody, noting that he had tried twice to join "a staggeringly violent criminal organization," lied to authorities and made a comment to a government informant that he would kill FBI agents "if our backs are against the wall."

"I think it's fair to say, that at this moment in time, the defendant's back is against the wall," Winter said.

Farah's attorney, Patrick Nwaneri, argued Farah should be released, saying he comes from a good family. He submitted a plan to Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis that proposed Farah be allowed to stay with his family, at a halfway house or at a St. Paul mosque. The plan said four imams would work with Farah to reject violence under the religion of Islam, and the Somali community and Farah's family would help keep Farah on a positive track.

Davis didn't signal whether he would support supervised release for Farah.

Prosecutors say Farah was among a group of four men who took a bus from Minneapolis to New York City in November and were stopped at JFK Airport as they attempted to travel overseas. Winter said Farah repeatedly lied to the FBI about his travel plans. Five months later, Farah was arrested in San Diego, where authorities believe Farah, a co-defendant and an informant had gone to get fake passports and planned to go to Mexico, then Syria.

Farah allegedly told his companions that his mother knew where he was going and he didn't think his parents would report him missing.

When asked Wednesday if that was true, Farah's mother, Ayan Mohamed Farah, told The Associated Press "absolutely no." Farah's mother and father filed affidavits Thursday saying they didn't know their oldest son was planning to join the Islamic State group or any other violent organizations.

Prosecutors presented other evidence Thursday based on information from a man who pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide support to the Islamic State group.

The cooperating defendant, whom authorities haven't identified, said Farah and another man introduced him to a YouTube channel with videos encouraging fighting on behalf of Islam. The cooperating defendant also said Farah helped him get a passport in spring 2014, and that Farah and another man gave him phone numbers to contact Islamic State group members once he arrived in Syria.

This cooperating defendant made a failed attempt to travel to Syria in May 2014.

The details about the cooperating defendant match the case of Abdullahi Mohamud Yusuf, who was stopped at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport last year and pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge in February. Yusuf's sentencing date hasn't been set.

Authorities say a handful of Minnesota residents have traveled to Syria to fight with militants. In addition, more than 22 young Somali men have traveled from Minnesota to Somalia since 2007 to join the terrorist group al-Shabab.

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