FBI informant testifies in terror trial of 3 Minnesota men

AP News
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Posted: May 19, 2016 7:12 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A man who planned to join fighting in Syria before he became an informant for the FBI has been testifying in the trial of three Minnesota men accused of plotting to join the Islamic State group. Some key details about Abdirahman Bashir:

WHO IS THE INFORMANT?

Bashir, 20, was born in San Diego to parents who came to the U.S. from Somalia in 1992. The family moved to Minnesota in 2012 so his parents could find more job opportunities. He described himself as a Sunni Muslim with moderate religious beliefs that began to shift in the ninth grade. In 2014, he said, he decided to join the Islamic State group in Syria, though his father, uncle and a cousin tried to talk him out of it.

Bashir has not been charged in the case.

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THE INFORMANT'S CONNECTION TO THE TRIAL

In Minnesota, Bashir became part of a group of young men who talked about joining the Islamic State. Six have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to support a foreign terrorist organization. Three others — Abdirahman Yasin Daud, 22, Mohamed Abdihamid Farah, 22, and Guled Ali Omar, 21 — are on trial. They have all pleaded not guilty to multiple counts. The most serious is conspiracy to commit murder outside the United States, punishable by life in prison.

The men allegedly talked about getting passports and money for travel, and about ways to contact the Islamic State group and get from Turkey to Syria.

The FBI has said about a dozen people have left Minnesota to join militant groups fighting in Syria in recent years. Since 2007, more than 22 men have joined al-Shabab in Somalia.

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THE INFORMANT'S CONNECTIONS TO FIGHTERS

Bashir had four cousins who went to Syria and joined the Islamic State group. He knew three of them well, and said they are dead.

Two cousins, brothers Hersi Kariye and Hamsa Kariye, were in San Diego when Bashir lived there. They were older than him, and spoke about jihad and becoming martyrs. Another cousin closer to his age, Hanad Mohallim, also lived in San Diego and was "like my brother," Bashir testified. He said they also spoke about jihad and watched videos of fighters praying, fasting and dying together.

The Kariye brothers moved to Canada in 2009. Mohallim moved to Minnesota in 2011.

Bashir said that in fall 2013, he learned the Kariye brothers had gone to Syria. Mohallim went to Syria in March 2014, and Bashir gave him a ride to the airport.

"I told him ... if you go over there and think it's true jihad, then I'm going to come later on," Bashir testified. He said he stayed in touch with Mohallim and others once they were in Syria.

After Mohallim left, Bashir said "I became more popular" and the other members of the group, including defendants Omar and Farah, wanted to hang out with him more often and talk about his cousin.

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A FAILED ATTEMPT

Bashir said he, Omar and a man named Yusuf Jama tried to leave for Syria in May 2014 but were stopped by Omar's family.

The group continued to meet, talking about going to Syria, watching videos and following social media accounts of others fighting in Syria. Bashir and the defendants worked together at a UPS facility, sometimes watching Islamic State videos there.

At one point, Mohallim, Hersi Keriye and another Minnesota resident named Abdi Nur called Bashir from Syria. They told him that the others were planning to leave in the near future, and urged Bashir to go with them.

Bashir said he wanted to go but had no passport and no money.

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BECOMING AN INFORMANT

In November 2014, some members of the group took a bus to New York and tried to leave the U.S. from JFK International Airport, but they were stopped.

Around the same time, Bashir also learned his cousins were killed. He said he pulled back from the group a little. Bashir said he was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury in December 2014 and afterward was approached by an FBI agent. Bashir recalled telling the agent that he lost his job, his cousin died, and his life wasn't too great at the moment.

A week or two later, Bashir contacted the agent. When asked why, he said he had stopped being radical and started listening to his father and a cousin who spoke out against the Islamic State group. He also said he began listening to scholars who said the Islamic State group was wrong.

"I was trying to get my life on track. I was trying to stay away from the group in Minneapolis. Rejecting their phone calls and staying at home," he said.

Bashir testified he agreed to cooperate to avoid getting in trouble, and because he would be paid. Still, Bashir said, he lied at first, and didn't tell the FBI everything. But he said when the FBI started asking specific questions about Omar, "In my head, that's when I knew that the FBI knew everything that was going on."

Once he started working with the FBI, Bashir began secretly recording conversations with other group members. In portions of the recordings played Thursday by prosecutors, the men talked about outsmarting authorities, routes to Syria and obtaining fake passports — which Bashir had told the men he could get, after he met with an undercover FBI agent.

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Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/amyforliti . More of her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/amy-forliti .