Judge keeps terror suspects in jail but says he's open to ideas

ISIS terror suspects
Five young men are accused of trying to join the ISIS terror group (left to right): Adnan Farah, Zacharia Abdurahman, Hanad Musse, Guled Omar, Hamza Ahmed.
Photos courtesy of local and national law enforcement agencies

Updated 4:45 p.m. | Posted 11:35 a.m.

A Minneapolis judge offered a flicker of hope Tuesday to families of five young men accused of trying to join the ISIS terror group who now sit in county jails.

Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ruled that the five men will continue to remain in jail pending trial, but he said he was interested in finding an alternative that would work for the families and the community.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

The federal judge said he's open to looking at less restrictive conditions, but expressed concern about sending them to a halfway house without a detailed plan in place.

Four of the men were appealing the April ruling of a magistrate judge who ordered their detention. Attorneys described their clients as young men with clean criminal records and strong family and community support.

Adnan Farah, Zacharia Abdurahman and Hanad Musse, all 19, and Guled Omar, 20, were arrested April 19.

Hamza Ahmed, 20, was arrested last November and charged in February with trying to aid a foreign terrorist organization and conspiring to provide support.

Davis launched a nationally watched experiment earlier this year when he agreed to let another terror suspect live at a halfway house, rather than prison, pending trial.

On Monday, however, he ordered that man, 19-year-old Abdullahi Yusuf, back to jail after Yusuf apparently violated unspecified rules at the halfway house.

"It's not black and white with me on these issues," Davis said Tuesday of detention. "It's a dilemma that this court has to deal with, with so many arrested."

He said he'll review each case separately. "At some point we have to sit down and map out a plan," Davis said. "It's not a cookie-cutter situation."

Farah's lawyer, Paul Engh, said Farah is only accused of thinking about traveling to Syria to join ISIS. "He may have talked the talk," Engh said. "But he did not walk the walk."

However, prosecutor John Docherty said Farah's detention was appropriate. Farah at least twice planned to travel to Syria, and the threats of ISIS are well known, he said, adding, "Anyone who'd want to ... help (ISIS) is someone who presents a danger to the community."

Jon Hopeman, Abdurahman's lawyer, proposed his client be allowed to live with his father or a halfway house and that Abdurahman be allowed to participate in a "circle of faith" at his father's Minneapolis mosque to give him a core grounding in the community.

"I don't find this young man to be radicalized or embittered," Hopeman said.

Davis said he was open to Hopeman's proposal but kept him in custody for now. Davis ordered the same for Musse, Farah, Ahmed and Omar, but again said he was open to alternatives.

Musse's attorney, Paul Dworak, asked Davis to release his client to a halfway house. Dworak said Musse's mother, a U.S. citizen, flew in about a week ago from Kenya.

Of the four suspects who appealled Tuesday, Omar is the only one not at the Sherburne County Jail.

Omar remains in solitary confinement in the Ramsey County Jail. Davis said he would try to get Omar moved to another facility where he would have the same living rules as other prisoners.

After the judge ordered the detention of the men, the mood at the court remained relaxed, unlike previous court hearings where it was heavy with tension.

Family members and supporters of the defendants said Davis had given them hope after he reiterated that the "court is open to hearing about a plan that will sufficiently deal with the issue."

Davis said it's the responsibility of the attorneys and families to devise a plan that's less restrictive than the one at the jail."You're asking me to do something and I need your help," he said. "I'll take a look at any plan that's presented to me."

Abdi Farah, the father of Adnan Farah, said after the hearing he found Davis to be fair. "We have a little bit of hope," he said. "[Adnan] has a chance now."

Farah's older son, Mohamed, has also been charged in the alleged conspiracy. Mohamed Farah remains in California, where he was arrested last month, his parents said.

Asha Hassan, 19, a student at the University of Minnesota, came to the court hearing with her friends, who all said they wanted to show support for the young men.

Hassan, who does not know the defendants, said she was pleased with Davis' approach — especially when he thanked each of the men's parents for attending the hearing.

"It seemed like he cared. I appreciate what he did," she said of the judge. "He was showing sympathy."

Hassan said the judge's compassion will go a long way in her community, which she described as "not very trusting."