The trial of three Twin Cities men accused of trying to join the ISIS terror group in Syria is underway. The cases of Guled Omar, 21; Abdirahman Daud, 22; and Mohamed Farah, 22 are being closely watched around the world.
Day 14: Thursday, May 26
‘I felt the whole world was on top of me’ | 10:50 p.m.
When her eldest son suddenly left the family, Guled Omar’s mother was in agony.
“This killed my mom every night,” Omar said. “She prayed for him every night. She asked God to guide him every night.”
Omar’s voice, firm through most of the testimony, cracked. He began to cry.
“My brother was everything that my mom wanted,” Omar added.
“My mom woke up at night,” Omar said in a low voice, difficult to hear in the crowded courtroom.
Several women in the court gallery sobbed and left the courtroom.
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis stopped Omar’s testimony. He told jurors to take a few minutes so that Omar could compose himself.
In a trial marked by tension and outbursts, Omar gave perhaps the most emotional testimony so far. The 21-year-old Omar, Mohamed Farah, 22, and Abdirahman Daud, 22, are charged with conspiring to provide material support to ISIS and to commit murder overseas. The three are being tried together.
Only Omar decided to take the witness stand after the government rested its case Thursday morning.
Omar testified that the FBI informant, Abdirahman Bashir, approached him several times in early 2015 to convince him to join a fake passport scheme. The informant told Omar that other men in the alleged conspiracy had provided their photos and he was about to send them to his contact in San Diego. Farah and Daud were arrested last year after they drove to southern California with Bashir.
Bashir gave Omar a week to make a decision, Omar said.
“That week for the hardest week of my life,” Omar testified, “because I felt like I had to make a decision between my family and my religion and beliefs and my fears.”
Eventually, Omar said he decided against supplying his photo and a down payment to the informant.
“I told him I had to make a decision between my mom, my sisters and my family,” Omar said. “I could not see myself putting my mom through what she went through once before.”
In 2007, Omar’s older brother, Ahmed Ali Omar, became one of the first Somali-American men from the Twin Cities to join the terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia. Omar said his brother never came back to the family after he went to the annual Hajj pilgrimage, a once-in-a-lifetime spiritual journey Muslims are required to make if they can afford it.
The informant, Bashir, told Omar that if he went to Syria for the sake of Allah, God will bring blessings to his family.
Omar’s attorney, Glenn Bruder, asked if God blessed Omar’s family when his brother Ahmed joined al-Shabab.
“No,” Omar said. “It ruined my family.”
Throughout his three hours of testimony, Omar described how he met several men in the alleged conspiracy — family, schools, neighborhoods, and basketball were common themes — and offered his recollection of events that led to his arrest in April 2015.
In May 2014, when he was 19, Omar, Yusuf Jama and Bashir planned to drive to California. But after Omar placed his luggage in the rental vehicle, a family member confronted him and the group was forced to abandoned their travel plans.
Seven months later, Omar tried to travel from Minneapolis to San Diego but was stopped at the airport and not allowed to board the plane.
Prosecutors allege that both times Omar was planning to go to Syria to join ISIS. But Omar explained in his testimony that he wanted to go on vacation in May after he finished his first year of college. In November, he wanted to get together with a girl he met online.
Earlier in 2014, Omar said he became interested in the Syrian conflict after one of his friends, Abdullahi Yusuf, convened the men in the group at his house. In that same month, Yusuf’s best friend, Hanad Mohallim, left for the Middle East and, authorities believe, joined ISIS.
Omar, who was into sports, social media, music, going to parties and chasing girls, became concerned about Muslims in Syria. He said it reminded him of his family’s own experiences fleeing Somalia’s civil war in early 1990s. His father, who lost a leg in the war, suffered from psychological problems and eventually left the family.
The group of his friends continued to meet through 2014 and early 2015. In the spring of 2015, Omar said he was the leader, or “emir,” of a religious study group of Muslim friends. Omar explained that being called emir doesn’t necessarily mean that one has a full control of the group, as prosecutors alleged. “It was more like a class leader,” he said.
In his testimony, Omar went hard after informant Bashir.
Omar said Bashir was the one who planted the idea of fighting jihad in Syria. Bashir’s four cousins were fighting for ISIS, including Mohallim, whom Bashir drove to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
When Omar asked Bashir why he did not go to Syria, Bashir told him: ‘Maybe Allah left me for a reason.’
In December 2014, Bashir appeared in front of a federal grand jury. When the two met again, he told Omar that the FBI was interested in him, leaving the impression that federal agents believed Omar was the recruiter.
Omar said he “felt paranoid.”
In September 2014, during a meeting with friends at a Minneapolis mosque, his friend Abdullahi Yusuf received a text from his attorney warning him that he would be arrested.
After he got the text, friends told Yusuf that it would be best to leave the United States. But Omar was the only one who advised Yusuf to stay, according to Omar and testimony from other government witnesses.
Yusuf told the group they would be next.
“I felt like every day someone was going to break into my house and snatch me away from my family,” Omar said.
Omar started seeing FBI agents following him around.
“I felt the whole world was on top of me,” Omar said.
In January 2015, after Bashir became informant, he invited Omar to smoke marijuana and asked: “What if I could get us out of here?”
Bashir then approached Omar with the idea to find fake passports in California.
“If you want to leave, this is your way to go,” the informant told Omar. “You’re not going to have a chance like this again.”
Omar said he was torn.
“I was having a fight between two sides of me: One saying you’re going down, you’re going to go to prison,” he said. “The other side saying you haven’t done anything wrong.”
Omar said he heard from friends that the FBI was showing them his photos.
“I started asking myself questions like, ‘Why are you running? Why are you trying to leave? What crime have I committed?’ ” Omar said. “I was feeling like I committed a crime but I know I hadn’t committed a crime.”
When he thought back on why his brother left the country, Omar said: “Now, in this time, I feel like I’m in a position that he was in and I was confused about what to do.”
Omar’s testimony will resume Friday morning.
— Mukhtar Ibrahim