Courts & Crime

Did Islamic State finance flights for Minnesota recruits?

Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 - a photo which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) marching in Raqqa, Syria.
Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 - a photo which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) marching in Raqqa, Syria. AP

Federal charges lodged Tuesday against two young members of Minnesota’s Somali community offer possible insight into how the Islamic State may be bankrolling recruits’ flights to the Middle East to join in its jihadist war.

The criminal conspiracy complaint charges Abdi Nur, 20, and Abdullah Yusuf, 18, with conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, a group that has aligned itself with al-Qaida splinter groups.

Nur, who flew to Turkey last May 29 and has not returned, is also charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. The criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis alleges that, in Facebook messages to an unidentified person in the United States, Nur has said he has gone “to the brothers” and that “im not coming back.”

We “will see each other in the afterlife inshallah,” he was quoted as saying, reciting a phrase meaning if God is willing.

A month after Nur’s flight, Yusuf attempted to fly to Turkey, but FBI agents intercepted him at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the complaint said.

Both young men were unemployed at the time, but each made cash deposits into a bank account before withdrawing the money to buy airline tickets costing more than $1,400 each. Prosecutors did not identify the source of the cash. In the past, al-Qaida has sent large sums of cash via wire transfer companies such as Western Union to finance operatives in the United States.

Reflecting the FBI’s intense focus on stopping Americans from joining the Islamic State’s violent crusade, the Justice Department said that prosecutors have now charged 15 individuals with supporting the radical group.

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have attracted the largest Somali community in the nation, and it’s become a prime recruiting ground for extremist Muslims.

Since the Somali radical Islamic group al-Shabaab began recruiting young adults from the Twin Cities in 2007, the region “has lost dozens of disaffected young people to terrorist organizations that would sooner see Somali Minnesotans die on foreign battlefields than prosper in peace and security in the United States,” said Andrew Lugar, the U.S. attorney for Minnesota.

Lugar said law-abiding leaders in the state’s Somali community remain strong partners of law enforcement agencies in attempting to “lift up those Somali you who remain vulnerable to terrorist recruiters.”

John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security, said that more than 16,000 recruits from over 90 countries have traveled to Syria to become “foreign terrorist fighters with alarming consequences.”

“This is a global crisis and we will continue our efforts to prevent Americans from joining the fight and to hold accountable those who provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations,” Carlin said.

Justice Department documents filed in court said that, without his parents’ knowledge, Yusuf applied for an expedited passport at the Minneapolis Passport Office last April 28, saying he planned to travel to Turkey. However, he failed to specify an itinerary, travel companions or the identity of a friend he purportedly met on Facebook and with whom he would be staying, the documents said.

Yusuf obtained the passport on May 5, 2014, and used it to open a checking account, into which he made four cash deposits that day, enabling him to buy an airline ticket, prosecutors said. On the day he planned to depart, his father drove him to school, but he left after an hour, walked to a nearby mosque and was driven to a light rail station linked with the airport, where he was confronted by FBI agents.

The Justice Department also said that Yusuf has associated with a figure identified only as H.S., a former Minnesota resident who flew to Syria in March and is now believed to be fighting with the Islamic State. H.M. used the same debit card to withdraw money as another Minnesotan who later traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State, prosecutors said.

Nur obtained an expedited passport days before Yusuf, flew to Turkey and had been scheduled to return to the United States on June 16, but did not, prosecutors said.

In the two months before his departure, the complaint said, he had become “much more religious” and had begun to discuss jihad, or holy war.

The court documents said that Nur had communicated with another criminal defendant, Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, who told him that “being connected in Jihad make you stronger and you can all help each other by fulfilling the duties that Allah swt (sic) put over you.”