Federal judge denies ISIS suspect last-minute attorney change

Hamza Ahmed's Instagram account
Hamza Ahmed is awaiting trial on charges of plotting to travel abroad to join ISIS in Syria and conspiracy to commit murder abroad. Screenshot from his Instagram account.

A federal judge denied an 11th-hour request Friday for a change of attorney for one of five young men awaiting trial on charges of plotting to travel abroad to join ISIS in Syria.

U.S. District Judge Michael J. Davis was concerned that the new attorney, Mitchell Robinson, would not be fully prepared to represent Hamza Ahmed during the trial, scheduled to start on May 9.

In addition to plotting to join ISIS, Ahmed faces a charge of conspiracy to commit murder abroad, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

"Do you have any idea what the magnitude of this case is?" Davis asked Robinson.

"The facts in the case are straightforward," Robinson responded. "I understand the stakes are extremely high."

Judge Davis pointed out that Robinson was publicly reprimanded in February by the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board for his handling of a drug-trafficking case in Texas.

"I normally wouldn't be doing this, sir, but you stepped your foot into one of the most complicated cases, at a period that's very short before the trial, where the defendant could end up in prison for the rest of his life," Davis told Robinson. "This is a death sentence for him."

Robinson said members of Ahmed's family approached him in October to possibly represent their son. The family didn't appear to have enough money to retain Robinson, who told them that Ahmed already had a capable attorney who was appointed to represent him through the public-defender system.

The family came back to Robinson two weeks ago, and indicated that they had raised the money needed to retain Robinson as Ahmed's attorney.

In court, Ahmed told the judge he had no conflicts with his current attorney, JaneAnne Murray, who represented him since he was arrested in February last year. She will continue to represent him.

Robinson, who said he represented Somali clients facing "serious felony charges," ranging from robbery to drug-related offenses, said he accepted the judge's decision.

Ahmed and his family are not eager for the case to go trial, so they hoped that Robinson would negotiate a deal with the federal government. But prosecutors have refused to drop the murder-conspiracy charges, Robinson said.

Murray declined to comment to reporters after the hearing.

Prosecutors added the murder-conspiracy charge in October, eight months after Ahmed was initially charged and following the guilty pleas entered by three of his friends.

Four other men — Adnan Farah, Guled Omar, Abdirahman Daud and Mohamed Farah — are also facing charges of conspiracy to murder overseas and other terror-related offenses. Their trial will start in May.

Another four Minnesota men previously charged in the FBI's terror probe — Abdullahi Yusuf, Hanad Musse, Zacharia Abdurahman and Abdirizak Warsame — have pleaded guilty to plotting to join ISIS.

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