Sixth Minnesota ISIS suspect pleads guilty as trial date nears

Hamza Ahmed
Hamza Ahmed was charged in February 2015 of trying to join ISIS. Federal prosecutors say Ahmed and three other young men took a bus in November 2014 from Minneapolis to New York and tried to board planes to Turkey. Authorities prevented them from flying out.
Sherburne County

Another young Twin Cities man accused of trying to join ISIS has pleaded guilty to terrorism charges.

Prosecutors say 21-year-old Hamza Ahmed and several other men tried to travel to Syria in 2014 to fight with the terror group. He and four other men were indicted by a federal grand jury in October.

He was charged with five crimes including conspiracy to murder outside the United States, conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, lying to the FBI and financial aid fraud. The fraud charge was for allegedly using student loan money to buy airline tickets to Turkey.

As part of the plea deal, the government dropped three of the five charges. Ahmed pleaded guilty in a federal courtroom Monday only to material support conspiracy and financial aid fraud.

Uncuffed but wearing prison clothing, Ahmed spent more than an hour standing at the lectern answering questions from U.S. District Judge Michael Davis and Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty.

The judge asked Ahmed many times if he understood that he has the right to a jury trial and if he'd had adequate legal representation. He answered yes every time.

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Davis last month denied Ahmed's request to change lawyers. Ahmed's family had hired attorney Mitchell Robinson but Davis would not let him represent Ahmed because the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board publicly reprimanded Robinson recently for mishandling a drug case in Texas.

The prosecutor later asked Ahmed to outline exactly what it was that led him to ISIS. Ahmed responded that he watched ISIS videos online of the war in Syria and of executions, and he and his friends "hyped each other up" about going to Syria and "helping any way we could."

Ahmed faces as much as 20 years and a $270,000 fine on the two charges for which he pleaded guilty. But without the conspiracy to commit murder abroad charge, Ahmed avoids a possible life sentence. While Davis said he'd order a presentence investigation report, he did not set a sentencing date.

Ahmed was gratified that the government extended a plea offer, said defense attorney JaneAnne Murray. She said she's focused now on the sentencing and hoping the young man's life is not derailed by "youthful and idealistic choices."

In all, 10 Twin Cities men have been charged with terrorism-related crimes involving ISIS. One is at large, presumably in Syria.

Ahmed became the sixth defendant to plead guilty. Adnan Farah changed his plea earlier this month.

That leaves three defendants who'll still face trial scheduled to start May 9. Murray said she has heard of no plans by either the government or attorneys for the other defendants to call her client as a witness in the trial.