MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A man who was part of a group of Minnesota men accused of plotting to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group testified Friday against three who he called his "former friends."
Abdullahi Yusuf, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the government, took the stand and identified those former compatriots as the defendants.
He looked across the courtroom at Abdirahman Yasin Daud, 22; Guled Ali Omar, 21; and Mohamed Abdihamid Farah, 22. All three have pleaded not guilty to multiple charges.
Yusuf, 20, testified that he intended to leave the U.S. and fight alongside Islamic militants in the Middle East, the Star Tribune reported.
"I was going to Syria," he told the courtroom.
The most serious charge the three men on trial face is conspiracy to commit murder outside the United States. It carries the possibility of life in prison. The men are also charged with conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State group and attempting to provide such support.
Young men from Minnesota's Somali community, the nation's largest, have been a target for terror recruiters. Six other men including Yusuf who were part of the alleged plot have pleaded guilty to various charges, while a 10th man charged in the case is believed to be in Syria.
Yusuf said he chose to cooperate with the government because what he was doing "was not right."
But he admitted Friday that even after he agreed to cooperate in early 2015, he withheld information and was not fully truthful, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.
"I wanted to cover for my former friends," Yusuf told the jury under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty. "I didn't want them to go to prison for it. I knew there would be blowback from the community. I didn't go 10 toes in. I didn't cooperate fully."
He said he decided to "come clean" by telling all.
The men who have pleaded guilty said they were drawn in by YouTube videos and other radical propaganda, and believed it was their duty to protect fellow Muslims who were suffering at the hands of the Bashar Assad regime.
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.
Yusuf testified that he became friends with another young Somali-American, Hanad Mohallim, at Burnsville High School. Mohallim is believed to have fled to the Middle East and been killed in Syria in 2014. Later, Yusuf said, after not hearing again from Mohallim, he started calling around to see where he had gone. He said he called Omar, one of the three defendants.
"I asked him if he had seen Hanad and he hung up on me," Yusuf said.
The trial began this week and is expected to last about three weeks.