MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - Abdullahi Yusuf took the stand to testify against three men he called his “former friends.” Speaking clearly and in the perfect English of a 20-year-old American citizen who came to the United States as an infant, Yusuf spent the day describing a complicated and fascinating year in his life that had him on the cusp of joining ISIL.
On May 28th, 2014, Yusuf was stopped at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport trying to board a flight to Turkey. Now, two years later, he’s one of the star witnesses in a federal trial exploring the recruitment efforts or a designated terror group.
Guled Omar, Mohamed Farah and Abdirahman Daud are on trial together on charges of conspiring to support ISIL and to commit murder abroad. Six others arrested in the same plot, including Yusuf, were offered and accepted plea deals. The three on trial were never offered the deal, their actions considered more serious.
OPENING STATEMENTS - Trial of Minnesota ISIS suspects officially begins
Yusuf described how he first became interested in Syria after being assigned a research project about the country in school. Soon, what was happening there became a topic he and his friends talked more and more about, especially as they were exposed to what he called “propaganda.” And he could specifically remember one particular gathering that really changed things.
“I was recruited that night,” Yusuf said. He told the U.S. Attorney John Docherty Omar had recruited him at a the gathering to go to Syria and fight for ISIL.
Yusuf explained for the jury about videos the men watched, sometimes in groups, sometimes by themselves, that deepened their desire to join the cause and take up arms against the Assad regime.
“So the channels’ pretty much saying Muslims shouldn’t live in the west," Yusuf said. "It’s best for them to make the journey to the Islamic State, things like that.”
When asked why it is better for Muslims, Yusuf explained “they can follow their religion perfectly over there. they don’t have to conform to anyone else’s traditions.”
Pressed about if he fully understood what he would do in Syria, he explained he would go to a training camp to learn to fight Assad solders with "guns, rocket launchers, anything I was trained to use."
When asked by Docherty if he understood he was going to Syria to kill people, Yusuf said he "didn’t think about that at the time.”
Pressed again about what happens when you used these weapons against people, a short pause, then a simple answer. “They die.”