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MN ISIS suspects back in court Wednesday as judge weighs next steps

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ISIS terror suspects
Five young men accused of trying to join the ISIS terror group are, left to right: Adnan Farah, Zacharia Abdurahman, Hanad Musse, Guled Omar, Hamza Ahmed.
Courtesy of

Updated: 1:40 p.m. | Posted: 11 a.m.

Seven men charged with conspiring to join the terror group ISIS will be in federal court Wednesday, as a judge considers pretrial motions filed in their cases, ranging from whether the government should disclose informants used in the case to whether the defendants should be given supervised release while they await trial.

Abdirahman Yasin Daud
Abdirahman Yasin Daud
Courtesy Sherburne County Jail

In joint motions filed on Aug. 7, defense attorneys said that the government should dismiss counts of conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS. They argued that those charges violate their clients' rights to exercise their religion. They also requested that counts of financial aid fraud that two of the suspects are facing should be dismissed. 

On Tuesday, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis denied those motions. He'll consider other motions on Wednesday.

 

How many ISIS suspects from Minnesota are in jail?

  Since late 2014, a total of eight men have been arrested on charges of conspiring to join ISIS. Six of the eight men were arrested on the same day in April during multiple operations in the Twin Cities and San Diego.

Mohamed Abdihamid Farah
Mohamed Abdihamid Farah, 21, of Minneapolis is accused of trying to join the terrorist group ISIS in Syria.
Courtesy Washington County Jail

  A ninth man, Abdi Nur, traveled to Syria in May 2014 and is believed to be fighting for ISIS.

  In court documents, prosecutors said the men had been targeted as part of a months-long surveillance operation by the FBI. In April, U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Andy Luger said the men "recruited each other ... friend to friend, brother to brother."

What will the judge decide on Wednesday?

Judge Davis will consider more than two dozen pretrial motions filed by defense attorneys in the past few weeks. 

Attorneys for seven of the alleged ISIS recruits — Zacharia Abdurahman, Hamza Ahmed, Abdirahman Daud, Adnan Farah, Mohamed Farah, Hanad Musse, Guled Omar — will be in court. An eighth man, Abdullahi Yusuf, pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to ISIS, and is awaiting sentencing.

When three of the men appeared in court in April, Davis offered the possibility of freeing the men on supervised release plans. In late June, their attorneys submitted release plans that included religious counseling for the young men, volunteering, basketball and even yardwork.

David rejected those proposals on July 8. The judge, however, indicated that he was prepared to take a closer look at the release plans.

The hearing could continue into Thursday if needed. 

 

Who's involved in the release plans, and why?

  Religious and community leaders, mosques and defense attorneys are involved in helping supervise or counsel the men if the judge releases them from jail before trial.

  During detention hearings for the suspects in May, Davis said it is the responsibility of the attorneys and families to devise a detailed plan that's less restrictive than 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."

 

Is there extra security for these court hearings?

  There has been heavy security at previous court hearings, including at least one bomb-sniffing dog. U.S. marshals also closely monitor people who have come to watch the hearings, which has upset some community members who believe they have been subjected to greater scrutiny.

    Defense attorneys have argued that this intense security presence could influence jurors' decisions. Prosecutors, however, said that security measures have been "appropriate and necessary."

 

Are more people still interested in joining ISIS since the arrests of these men?

  There have been fears that more people have left for Syria to join ISIS despite the arrests of these men. In a town hall meeting in mid-August, the Somali American Task Force confirmed to community members that a number of Somali-Americans recently left for Syria.

  Last week, the head of the FBI in Minnesota said more people are still planning to go to Syria.

  "There are people in this community that are at various stages along the path to traveling as we speak," FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard Thornton told The Associated Press. "I can't tell you if there is one on an airplane as we speak, necessarily, but the arrests and the other activities have not stopped the activity across the board."

 

What's the community doing about this?

The Somali community is divided over how to tackle the issue of recruitment in the Twin Cities.

  A 15-member task force of Somali-Americans, including religious leaders, activists, parents and health professionals, is working to come up with programs for youth aimed at preventing terror recruitment in Minnesota.

  The group, which has Luger's support, is now seeking to secure funding from federal grants and foundations. The task force is expected to make an announcement in the coming weeks about how the funding will be administered.

  However, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and some Somali community members oppose the Somali-American Task Force. They argue that the task force's program might be used to gather intelligence from community members.