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As trial looms, lawyer for man in ISIS case seeks to withdraw from case

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Abdihamid Yusuf and Ayan Farah
Abdihamid Yusuf and Ayan Farah, parents of 22-year-old Mohamed Farah, say they want next week's trial to be delayed because their son's attorney is not prepared to defend him.
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

The parents of a young man facing charges of trying to join ISIS say their son's lawyer, Murad Mohammad, is not adequately prepared to defend their son and is pressuring him to plead guilty to serious charges, just days before the trial is set to begin.

And on Thursday afternoon, as the parents of his client were talking to reporters, Mohammad filed a motion under seal seeking to withdraw from the case. A hearing for that motion is scheduled for Monday morning.

Two days earlier, Mohammad asked the court to consider appointing him as counsel so he can get paid through the court and not by the family. Mohammad said the family hasn't paid him since September. 

Davis denied the lawyer's request Wednesday.

Ayan Farah and Abdihamid Yusuf said the trial should be delayed and the court should appoint a new attorney. They say their son, Mohamed Farah, who was transferred to Sherburne County Jail a week ago from another jail, has suddenly been put into solitary confinement without explanation, days before jury selection on Monday.

They appealed to U.S. District Judge Michael Davis to look closely into their son's case, which they say is keeping them awake at night. 

In the beginning, Mohammad wasn't even supposed to be the lead lawyer for Farah. 

"We didn't hire him," Yusuf said. 

Formerly a co-counsel, Mohammad found himself as lead lawyer after the law firm the family retained withdrew from Farah's case over comments made by a law clerk in the case.

P. Chinedu Nwaneri, the lawyer the family initially hired to represent Farah, said he asked to be taken off the case altogether "to stop further distractions" after his law clerk was accused of interfering with other defendants' cases.

"It is not in doubt that these events detract defense counsel from concentrating solely on the defense of the various defendants and create future uncertainty in this complex matter," Nwaneri said in a motion on April 1.

During a motions hearing on the same day, Judge Davis repeatedly asked Mohammad if he wants to continue representing Farah. Mohammad told Davis that he's "competent and confident" to defend Farah at trial.

Mohammad suggested that the court could consider appointing a co-counsel to help him with the case.

In response, federal defender Katherian Roe contacted Mohammad and scheduled a meeting with him.

However, Mohammad did not show up for the meeting, according to Davis' order denying the attorney's motion requesting the court appoint him as counsel.

Farah's parents told reporters Mohammad doesn't return their calls. "Every time we call Murad, he never answers the phone," Yusuf said. "He says you need to text whatever you guys want."

The parents said Mohammad didn't give Farah a chance to see judge Davis to express his concerns about his lawyer. 

Mohammad could not immediately be reached for comment.

The parents said Mohammad has repeatedly pressured their son to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit murder overseas, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. 

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment on whether the government offered any plea deals to Farah.

The parents said Farah was never offered a plea deal before and they were surprised that he hasn't received the same plea deal offer that six other men in the ISIS-related case were given. 

Farah's younger brother Adnan, one of the six, pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to ISIS, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. 

Mohamed Farah is scheduled to go on trial Monday along with two other Minnesota men, Abdirahman Daud and Guled Omar. 

Yusuf said Mohamed would have taken the offer that the others received, though he insists his son is innocent of the charges. 

If they are released, Farah said he would "watch my kids more than before."