MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Seven Minnesota men accused of plotting to travel to Syria to fight with the Islamic State group are scheduled to stand trial on Feb. 16, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
They have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and other counts. Prosecutors allege the men, friends in Minnesota's Somali community, began meeting last year to talk about ways to get to Syria. Prosecutors say some discussed a desire to become martyrs, and some made repeated attempts to leave the U.S. after initial efforts were thwarted.
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis heard arguments on several pretrial motions Wednesday and ruled that the men would go on trial together. Here are some highlights:
Six of the seven men were arrested in April, months after a man who was part of the group went to the FBI and became a paid informant.
Defense attorneys are asking that prosecutors disclose the man's name and make him available for an interview. Prosecutors say the informant will be called as a government witness and his name will be disclosed before trial. They say they aren't releasing his name yet because the government told him it would try to keep him and his family safe.
Davis gave attorneys two weeks to come up with a timeline for disclosure.
BUS TO NEW YORK
Testimony provided by two FBI agents offered details into what happened when four defendants took a bus to New York last November and were stopped at JFK Airport before traveling overseas.
New York Special Agent Michael Lewis said his office got a request from the FBI in Minneapolis to find the four men.
"There were actions being taken on an expedited level that morning to get these individuals on the no-fly list," Lewis said.
Lewis said he found one defendant, Mohamed Farah, on a curb outside Terminal 1 after Farah wasn't allowed to check in. He said he later found Hanad Musse on the ticketing level. Musse wasn't allowed to board his flight, but Lewis wasn't sure when Musse was stopped in the boarding process.
Both men were interviewed separately about the purpose of their travels. Lewis said both were annoyed at being unable to fly, and both cooperated with the interview initially but grew irritated as questions went on.
Murad Mohammad, Farah's attorney, noted his client became annoyed when the FBI said they didn't believe some of his answers.
Minneapolis FBI Special Agent Harry Samit testified he and other agents interviewed Hamza Ahmed on Nov. 9, when Ahmed returned to Minneapolis from New York. The interview was done in what appeared to be an employee break room at the bus station, and it was recorded by an agent, Samit said. Ahmed was not told about the recording.
Samit said Ahmed appeared "neutral, relaxed" and knew the interview was voluntary.
Under cross-examination, Ahmed's attorney, JaneAnne Murray, said he was pulled off his plane while on the runway at JFK. She said her client was told agents were conducting a counterterrorism investigation and there was a penalty for lying.
Defense attorneys are trying to get statements their clients made to the FBI tossed from the case.
PLANS FOR RELEASE
Three attorneys renewed requests to have their clients released. Paul Engh, an attorney for Adnan Farah, said that while some defendants in these current traveler cases have presented plans for pretrial release, no one who has pleaded not guilty has been granted it. Engh asked for guidance on a release plan that would be acceptable.
Davis said the plans he's seen don't meet his standard for release, but he's working hard to come up with a set of conditions that could work.
After the hearing, Sadik Warfa said families were disappointed that the judge hasn't released anyone, after community members, religious leaders and others came up with comprehensive plans designed to steer these young men in a positive direction. Still, Warfa said, the Somali community has confidence in the legal system.
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