Updated: 5:58 p.m. | Posted: 11:16 a.m.
The third of three ISIS defendants to be sentenced in federal court today will serve 10 years in prison.
Adnan Farah, 20, tearfully thanked federal agents who arrested him. "If it wasn't for them, maybe I wouldn't be here today," he said. He asked Judge Michael Davis for mercy, adding, "I hope you can see I'm not faking anything here."
Farah said he had been able to find books and videos about jihad, but no one who tried to steer him away from the subject. "Everybody's scared to talk about it," he said. Exposure to ISIS ideology causes an "identity crisis," he said, adding: "I guarantee there's kids going through this now."
Davis wondered whether Farah might have been influenced by his older brother, Mohamed Farah, who'll be sentenced tomorrow. He noted that Adnan Farah, unlike his brother, had pleaded guilty.
Adnan Farah emotionally recounted his parents' surprise when they discovered the passport he intended to use to travel to the Mideast. He said his parents asked him, "Are you not happy with the way we're raising you? Or the way we're loving you?"
Farah said he was at a loss for words.
Davis asked the parents, Ayan and Abdihamid Farah, to come forward. "I would never want to be in your place," Davis told them, "having two sons that are going to go to prison."
Ayan Farah, who collapsed when her son pled guilty, told the judge she's still suffering from high blood pressure, insomnia and heart problems. She asked for leniency, but said whatever sentence the judge delivered, "I will accept it. I will be willing to live with it."
Farah's sentence was the third Davis handed down today.
Hanad Musse, 21, also sentenced to 10 years, had pleaded guilty to trying to fly out of the United States to join the terror group in Syria.
"I'm not going to stand up here and tell you he's reformed," Musse's attorney, Andy Birrell, told Judge Michael Davis. "But I do think we can save this guy."
Musse apologized for lying to his family, the government and the community, but added: "I told myself the biggest lie. I deceived myself to think I was doing good."
"I'm not a hero," he said. "I've committed a serious offense."
When asked by the judge why he hadn't cooperated with authorities, Musse replied that he would have lost the community's support by doing so.
"I was never entrapped," he said. "I was an 18-year-old who wasn't thinking straight. I was reckless and selfish."
In the final exchange before sentencing, the judge asked Musse: "Sir, are you a terrorist or not?" "I am a terrorist, your honor," Musse replied.
Davis, who has openly grappled with the difficulty of the sentencing decisions he's making, compared the ISIS cases with drug offenses. A recidivist drug dealer might simply go back to selling dope, he said. But what happens when a terrorist reoffends?
At one point during today's proceedings Davis raised his voice: "This was a jihadi cell. Everyone talks about Brussels, Paris having cells. We have a cell here in Minneapolis!"
The first case of the day was that of Hamza Ahmed, 21, who had pleaded guilty to a terror-conspiracy charge and financial aid fraud. Davis sentenced Ahmed to 15 years behind bars.
Ahmed had told the judge that he was thankful he'd been stopped from joining ISIS.
In 2014, Ahmed and Musse were apprehended by federal agents as they tried to catch a plane from New York. "I'm grateful I can still breathe right now," Ahmed told Judge Davis in court. "I'm thankful I was pulled off that plane."
Davis pressed Ahmed to be frank about what he'd been trying to do. "You were involved in being a warrior for ISIS," he said, "and it would be fair to say you were a terrorist."
"Yes, I was a terrorist," Ahmed said.
Ahmed's father, Naji Ibrahim, said he was hoping for lighter time, but said he's grateful for federal agents who pulled his son from a plane to the Middle East and likely saved his life. Ibrahim said he wants other immigrant parents who are so busy working to pay more attention to their children.
"They just rely on public schools,"" Ibrahim said. "They go there eight hours, expecting that everything will be perfect. But that's not enough. Family has to spend time with their kids, know what they're up to and advise them mentally. That's what I feel guilty about — not giving as much time as I needed."
ISIS propaganda videos were shown in court today, complete with graphic depictions of violence. Davis said the brutality of the videos made them seductive to potential recruits, and prosecutors said they proved that young men who wanted to join ISIS could not claim altruistic motives.
Ahmed, Musse and Farah had all pleaded guilty. None of them, however, helped the FBI build its case or testified against their friends at trial. Two others in the group of nine who did were rewarded for their cooperation and received relatively light sentences.
Mauri Saalakhan, head of the Aafia Foundation, a Muslim human rights group based in Silver Springs, Maryland, came to watch the sentencings. He said he feels for both groups of young men — the ones who felt they needed to cooperate, and those who couldn't bring themselves to it.
"You can find that among non-religious young men in the hood — 'I'm not going to be a snitch.' But there is a strong tradition within the Islamic creed that a Muslim does not use his tongue or his hand to bring harm to another Muslim — in fact to another human being. This is where they were coming from and I understood that," Saalakhan said.
In sentences handed down yesterday, Davis:
• Sent Abdullahi Yusuf, 20, to a halfway house. Yusuf will serve 20 years' supervised release.
• Ordered Abdirizak Warsame, 21, to prison for 30 months.
• Delivered the harshest punishment of the day to Zacharia Abdurahman, 21, who will serve 10 years in prison.
The sentencing hearings end Wednesday with three men who were convicted at trial. They face decades in prison.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported Adnan Farah's age incorrectly. The current version is correct.
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