MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - Family members of a Minnesota man connected to young people who allegedly attempted to fight for ISIS, say he frequently expressed radical beliefs about religious Jihad.
Amir Meshal, 32, is on the government’s “No-Fly” list, and as the FOX 9 Investigators revealed, recently got his Class A Commercial Drivers License, which will allow him to drive large semi-trucks.
Meshal’s cousin, Tony Osman, recalled a non-stop road trip the two made from Minnesota to New Jersey two years ago for a family funeral.
"He said Jihad is the greatest and highest and best thing you can do in Islam. And the best deed equaled by none," Osman recalled. “On the car ride, Amir was listening to Blind Sheikh and Osama Bin Laden. Video tapes on his handheld device connected through the speakers. They were lectures and promoting Jihad."
"He seemed to be very fascinated and enthralled by it (Jihad)," said Osman. "I asked him also what he thought about ISIS and this was like June or July. He said they're a good group, seems they want to implement the Koran and the Sharia."
Meshal has been on the FBI's radar since 2007, when he was arrested leaving an Al Qaeda training camp in Somalia. He was held for three months in secret prisons in Kenya and Ethiopia, enduring grueling interrogations.
Osman recalled several parts of his conversations with his cousin. "He said, do you know the real reason I went to Somalia? And I said, no I don’t. This is the first time I am hearing this. (Mashal:) I went to train with some high level Al Qaeda people who had just returned from Afghanistan.”
Nabil Ashour is another relative, who Meshal lived with for a short time, after returning from Somalia. "What I saw when he came back was not the same kid that I saw and lived with me that I knew from New Jersey," Ashour said. "I felt he was like helping a terrorist lie low in my basement." Nabil Ashour isn't a practicing Muslim. He believes his cousin is looking for martyrdom.
Meshal is suing Homeland Security with help of the ACLU for being held in rendition overseas and for being on the no-fly list. In a letter last December, Homeland Security said Meshal is not only a terror threat, but "has the operational capacity to carry out a terror attack." The reasons for that assessment are classified, blacked out on documents. The two lawsuits are on appeal. A decision is expected soon.
Last summer, Meshal was kicked out of a Bloomington mosque for attempting to radicalize young people, including many of those who prosecutors say were attempting to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS.
Meshal is suspected of playing an influential role with Abdullahi Yusuf, who is now a cooperating government witness and Abdi Nur, believed to have been killed fighting for ISIS.
Osman was with Meshal when he met with the group.
Osman: "I need to talk to the brothers privately and he talked to the group of kids that was arrested.”
Reporter: “How long would he talk to them?”
Osman: “5, 10, 15 minutes."
Reporter: “And did he seem to be leading them in anyway?”
Osman: "I am not sure, honestly. They did seem to respect him highly and value his opinion and listen to him."
He further recalled Meshal encouraged the young people to watch videos of Sheikh Anwar Al Awlaki, a radical cleric killed in a U.S. drone strike, whose lectures have inspired lone wolf attacks all over the world. "He called them Sheikh Anwar's videos. He said that guy speaks the truth. He said if you want to know the truth listen to this guy." Osman remembered.
Osman has known Meshal since they were just five years old, growing up near Newark, New Jersey. They're actually double cousins. Their parents are siblings, in a complicated and intriguing family tree. Osman's step father, Khalid Ibrahim, is an un-indicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. When Osman was only 10 years old his step-father took him to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he said he received training alongside the Taliban. He's photographed holding a grenade launcher. Osman, is now a personal trainer and said he had long ago rejected radical Islam.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney have repeatedly declined to talk to the Fox 9 Investigators about Meshal and whether he may be a target in any criminal investigation. The standard criminal charge has been "material support" for a terrorist organization. That can be buying a plane ticket or even driving someone to the airport to fight for ISIS. But simply preaching about the virtues of Jihad especially in a foreign country is not criminal. Many would argue it is protected free speech.
Meshal’s attorney with the ACLU, Hina Shamsi, said in a statement to the FOX 9 Investigators: “Mr. Meshal has been under law enforcement scrutiny for over a decade and has never been charged with a crime. He rejects any and all false allegations about his beliefs and stands by the statements he has repeatedly made, that he has engaged in no wrongdoing and wants only only what any other American wants, which is to get on with his life peacefully. It is shameful that he continues to be hounded by false allegations, rumor, and innuendo.”
In a separate statement to The FOX 9 Investigators last May, Meshal said: “I would never suggest that anyone join ISIS or any other group that kills innocent people, nor would I ever provide money to do so.”
According to Osman, Meshal told him "innocence" is relative when it comes to Jihad, especially in defense of a Muslim state, a caliphate. "People who don't implement Sharia, even if they're Muslim, they're considered infidels and we should kill them and we should defend our lands and implement Sharia," Osman remembered Meshal saying.
Reporter: “Did he say he would do Jihad in the United States?”
Osman: "He didn't specifically say I’m going to do Jihad in the United States. What he told me it was his right to do Jihad, wherever he is, and if the enemies of Islam trap him in the enemy land all options are open to him."
Meshal's attorney released a statement Monday night saying "he rejects any and all false allegations about his beliefs and stands by the statements he has repeatedly made, that he has engaged in no wrongdoing and wants only what any other American wants, which is to get on with his life peacefully.”