The group comes from Minnesota’s large Somali immigrant population, officially estimated at 40,000. The true number must be closer to 140,000. The United States attorney himself has used an unofficial estimate of 100,000 in an agreement he entered into with Somali community leaders. If Minnesota’s Somalians were a city, they would be Minnesota’s third-largest, after Minneapolis and St. Paul. Their numbers grow every year. In September 2015, the House Homeland Security Committee released a study of Americans seeking to join ISIS as foreign fighters. Minnesota, it turns out, sends more aspiring fighters to Syria and Iraq than any other state.
The heart of the government’s case was conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization (by joining ISIS) and conspiracy to commit murder overseas (by fighting for ISIS). In the spring and fall of 2014, the defendants tried unsuccessfully to leave Minnesota for Syria. Farah was one of three Minnesota Somalis intercepted at JFK Airport on his way to Syria that November. He protested to the FBI agents who stopped him that he was simply on his way to vacation by himself in sunny Sofia, Bulgaria.
In April 2015, the defendants thought they had a chance to travel to Syria through Mexico. By this time, however, Bashir had appeared before the grand jury, turned informant, and begun recording his friends for the FBI. In April 2015, he convinced them to travel to San Diego by car to obtain fake passports. The FBI was planning a sting. Sensing that he was “hot,” Omar declined to join the road trip.
Bashir’s covert recordings took center stage over several days at trial. In hours of recordings, the defendants expressed their desire to join ISIS, their regret over the failure of their previous efforts to make it out of the United States, their commitment to wage jihad against nonbelievers, and their ardent wish to die as martyrs. They expressed their contempt for the United States. They thrilled to the videos of ISIS butchery in the name of Allah. They talked excitedly about their communications with friends who had made it to join ISIS in Syria.