Threatening Twitter posts keep alleged Minnesota ISIS recruit in jail

A Minnesota teenager accused of lying to federal agents at New York's JFK Airport after he was pulled off a flight bound for Turkey will remain in jail. The federal judge in St. Paul on Monday ordered Ahmed held without bail, citing threatening Twitter posts that were "beyond youth or hubris." The FBI believes 19-year-old Hamza Ahmed had a final destination of Syria, to fight with ISIS.

Caught at JFK

In November 2014, Ahmed and three other young men from the Twin Cities, took a Greyhound bus from Minneapolis to New York. The other three were stopped by customs at JFK, but Ahmed was already on board a flight to Turkey when the FBI pulled him off the plane. Ahmed told agents he was traveling on to Spain by himself, but had no hotel reservations.

All four were allowed to take a Greyhound bus back to Minneapolis, where the FBI again interviewed Ahmed, who denied knowing the other three -- only recognizing one from Burnsville High School. But the FBI had video from the bus terminal, showing they had traveled together.

Ahmed was arrested Feb. 5 and charged with lying to the FBI.

How do we stop it?

Mohamud Noor, a former Minneapolis School Board member, says programs are needed to reach at risk youth before the jihadist recruiters.

"This is time something needs to be done, before the kids go to JFK or somewhere else," Noor said.

On social media, Hamza provides his own road map from alienation to radicalization. The kid who talks about smoking weed with his friends, takes a turn towards religion, and is soon attending lectures at Al Farooq, the Bloomington mosque where many of the ISIS travelers would play basketball. The same mosque that kicked out a former terror suspect, Amir Meshal, for radicalizing young people.

"Jihad is the number one deed or form of devotion to Allah," Hamza tweets. "Correct me if I'm wrong."

"The kids are leaving as we speak and that's the sad part of the story. Not just from here, but from New York, Montreal, Toronto," Omar Jamal, with American Friends of Somalia, said.

It's happening in Sweden, too, with its large Somali population. Erica Bjerstom, a Swedish journalist with Sveriges TV, is working on a story about efforts to combat radicalism in Minnesota, and finding very little.

"Research we've done so far shows the programs are just beginning," she said.

They're just beginning after nearly 40 young men have attempted to travel overseas for jihad. Today, one more naive young man is locked up, the puppet master pulling the strings, still invisible.

"Unless we get support of parents we will never be able to support these young men," Noor said."

U.S. attorney Andy Luger will be at a Washington, D.C. summit next week unveiling a pilot program to combat radicalism. Similar programs will be getting underway in Los Angeles and Boston as well. The details of these programs remain vague at best, but include youth outreach, after school, and job programs.

Recruiting tactics changing

Jamal believes the tactics of recruiting young men from the Twin Cities are changing. 

"The kids are still leaving to join ISIS and al-Shabaab, so something is wrong here," Jamal said. "They're still leaving, they're still leaving."

He says that instead of using Minneapolis, they're using New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and even Toronto as departure airports. And social media is how they communicate. The FBI found Twitter messages between Ahmed and one of the other travelers, talking about meeting at "the masjid (mosque)," needing to talk "somewhere that ain't hot." Ahmed attended al-Farooq in Bloomington, Minn. -- a mosque the other travelers to Syria also attended.

But at other times, Ahmed sounds a typical teen.

"I wonder what it feels like to have friends," he writes. "Like legit friends you can open up to."

That alone may say more about why young men are travelling to Syria, than anyone realizes.

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