A St. Louis Park man who investigators say left his family four years ago to join the terrorist group Islamic State, or ISIS, has turned up in a Syrian prison.
Abdelhamid Al-Madioum is a U.S. citizen born in Morocco. In the summer of 2015, while on break from studying computer science at Normandale Community College, he went with his parents on a two-month vacation to Morocco.
Al-Madioum socialized with family members on July 7 and then slipped away early the next morning, taking only his cellphone and passport, according to federal documents. The young man — who was 18 at the time — caught an 8:25 a.m. flight from Casablanca to Istanbul. Turkey is a common point of departure for aspiring ISIS fighters.
His family made unsuccessful attempts to contact him by text and social media, and soon went to a U.S. consulate in Morocco, where they asked for help from the FBI.
They told investigators that their son had seemed even more preoccupied than usual with his phone, and agreed to a search of their home in St. Louis Park.
Two weeks before the Al-Madioum family returned from Morocco, agents went to their house and made copies of four laptops and two external hard drives.
According to the search warrant, the FBI also found handwritten notes in Al-Madioum’s desk, including a flow chart of how he planned to transfer money through various accounts, as well as a rehearsed story for getting past Turkish border guards. Agents also allegedly found a sketch of an ISIS flag.
The family said Al-Madioum called them in late August 2015 and claimed to be working at a hospital in Mosul, Iraq — a city that was under ISIS control at that time.
It’s not clear if they ever heard from him after that. Al-Madioum has not been charged with a crime in the United States. And a person who answered a Minnesota phone number listed for his mother declined to comment.
But reporter Holly Williams of CBS News did make contact with Al-Madioum. In a segment that aired Tuesday, Williams says she was granted rare access to a prison in northeastern Syria that was overcrowded with alleged ISIS fighters.
Wearing an orange jumpsuit and missing his right arm, Al-Madioum said he was recruited through a Twitter contact.
"He said, 'Do you want to speak to someone in ISIS?' I said, 'Yeah, of course.'"
Al-Madioum told Williams that propaganda videos led him to believe ISIS was helping Muslims, and he didn’t believe news of the group’s atrocities.
Al-Madioum: “To be honest, I was kind of a conspiracy theorist a little bit.”
Williams: “Yeah, but it’s a terrorist organization, Abdel, it’s a terrorist organization that’s carried out attacks.”
Al-Madioum: “Here’s the thing, people like me that see this, first of all, really don’t believe the news.”
Al-Madioum told Williams that FBI agents interrogated him. MPR News was not able to independently verify that.
Williams noted in her report that she was not sure if Al-Madioum was able to speak freely during their interview.
It’s not certain if Al-Madioum will be able to leave the Syrian prison any time soon. Americans who aid foreign terrorist organizations can face lengthy sentences in the U.S.
In 2016, a federal judge in Minneapolis sentenced nine Twin Cities men who were convicted of trying to join ISIS. None had managed to make it out of the United States. But the group's leader — Guled Omar — is serving 35 years in prison.