MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - After two days of cautious and deliberate jury selection, the trial against three Minnesota men accused of trying to help the terror group ISIL began Wednesday morning as attorneys made their opening statements.
Guled Omar, Mohamed Farah and Abdirahman Daud face 10 federal counts in total, some of them as a group, some of them as individuals. The most serious charges are that they conspired to commit murder outside the United States and that they conspired to join ISIL, a designated terrorist organization.
Federal prosecutors: 'They were persistent'
“The evidence overall is going to show you how patient and how determined these defendants were to join ISIL,” assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter told the jury as part of his hour long opening remarks.
Winter said jurors would see evidence of calls and messages between the three young men to show how dedicated they were to get out of the United States and how clear it was to them that ISIL were far more than mere freedom fighters against the Syran government.
He warned jurors they’d see some of the graphic videos the defendants watched that they allege are what helped indoctrinate them into the ISIL mindset. One of the videos, called “Flames of War,” depicts mass executions of ISIL prisoners. He told the jurors as the men made repeated efforts over the course of a year to get to Syria, they were well aware what ISIL was doing.
“They were persistent and they knew that ISIL was a designated terrorist organization and that ISIL engaged in acts like this,” Winter said. “Horrific crimes."
Winter said the defendants were determined to join and fight for ISIL.
"That’s what the defendants wanted to do, that’s what the defendants planned to do, that’s what the defendants agreed to do, time and time again," Winter said.
Defense tells 'the rest of the story'
There was a stark contrast between the first defense opening statement and the following two. Murad Mohhamad, who had tried to quit as the attorney for Mohamed Farah last week, was the first of the defense lawyers to address the jury.
His remarks were only a few minutes long and seemed to reflect the rift between lawyer and client. Farah’s family complained that Murad Mohhamad had not been making much of an effort, and that was the impression left by his opening remarks, that consisted mainly that jurors were going to hear “the rest of the story.”
Bruce Nestor, attorney for Abdirahman Daud, and Glenn Bruder, representing Guled Omar, both spoke passionately about their clients at great length, both arguing that the men had been pulled into and set up by a paid government informant.
Nestor said the informant, who was being investigated as well and had four cousins who’d already joined ISIL in Syria, was driven by the mindset of “you gotta get other people into trouble…you gotta get other people into the plots that you were involved in.”
He also said the informant was highly motivated by the ore than $100,000 they allege he earned for his role.
“You’ll have to determine if a person being paid by the FBI to avoid being punished for his own crimes is telling the truth or just trying to save his own skin,” Nestor told the panel.
Nestor admitted that the jurors will find some of the things Daud was recorded saying as “shocking, offensive and repugnant,” but that the freedom to have thoughts and opinions is the bedrock upon which this nation was founded.
He admits that Daud drove to San Diego as part of a plot to get fake passports to travel to Syria, but that he “did not have murder on his mind” and “did not conspire or plot or plan to commit murder abroad.”
Glenn Bruder’s defended Guled Omar much the same way, claiming Omar was pulled into the plot by that same paid informant, who he called “an ISIS sympathiser who was trying to avoid prosecution while enriching himself at the government’s expense.”
Bruder said the informant was a persistent salesman pushing the men to travel to Syria to join ISIS, motivated by the money he was getting. Bruder says Omar repeatedly - at least five times - refuted the man’s pushes to join ISIS.
The trial is expected to last several weeks. The jury pool is evenly split along gender lines: eight men and eight women. But there are no minorities on the panel. All the jurors, selected out of a total pool of 101 potential jurors, are Caucasian.