Six Somali-American men who planned to travel to Syria to fight as jihadists have been arrested and were to appear in court Monday on charges of conspiring to support a terrorist organization.
The case was the latest in a series in recent months concerning Americans who have been accused of or stopped from traveling to the Middle East to join extremist groups.
Federal prosecutor Andrew Luger told a press conference that the latest six suspects were from the northern state of Minnesota.
He said the arrests were the result of a 10-month investigation by a joint terrorism task force into an extremist recruitment ring.
The men, friends or acquaintances in what authorities described as a “peer-to-peer” recruitment effort, had planned to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group over the past year.
In this they had the help of an acquaintance who had made it to the war-ravaged nation and was actively recruiting volunteers in Minnesota.
Four of the men were arrested on Sunday in Minneapolis, while two were arrested in San Diego, where they were trying to buy forged passports to help them cross into Mexico to journey on to Syria, according to prosecutors.
“They were not confused young men, they were not easily influenced. These are focused men who were intent on joining a terrorist organization by any means possible,” Luger said.
The defendants were identified as Mohamed Abdihamid Farah, Adnan Abdihamid Farah, Abdurahman Yasin Daud, Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, Hanad Mustafe Musse and Guled Ali Omar.
Also on Monday, in a separate case, an American from New York was sentenced to 25 years in prison after admitting he had tried to join Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
“Marcos Alonso Zea presents a chilling reminder of the danger presented to the United States by homegrown terrorists,” US Attorney Loretta Lynch said of the man accused of seeking to “wage violent jihad” against enemies of Islam.
Earlier this month, a 30-year-old woman from Philadelphia was charged with attempting to join IS.
– ‘Burn my ID’ –
Minneapolis, with its large Somali immigrant community, is a focal point for investigations into Americans allegedly seeking to join Islamist extremist groups.
“We have a terror recruiting problem in Minnesota,” Luger acknowledged.
The FBI’s top agent in Minneapolis, Richard Thornton, praised “courageous” Somali-Americans who helped thwart recruitment for a terrorist network he called “evil at its core.”
Several men between age 18 and 24 from immigrant families in Minnesota have managed to leave America and join forces with IS and other groups.
Among them is Abdi Nur, who left the United States bound for Syria in May 2014 and was a linchpin in the recruitment ring broken up by federal authorities.
He “recruits individuals and provides assistance to those who want to leave Minnesota to fight abroad,” according to the criminal complaint released by the Department of Justice.
Nur knew the men arrested Sunday, according to the 31-page complaint.
Several of them made a previous attempt to travel to Syria in November, but were stopped by officials at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York who became suspicious of their travel itineraries, which included flying to European cities with no luggage or hotel reservations.
Another Minnesotan in the November plot, 19-year-old Hamza Ahmed, was arrested after trying to fly to Turkey. He was charged with lying to federal agents.
Much of the evidence gathered about the group came from a conspirator who had “a change of conscience” and contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
FBI agents helped arrange for him to record conversations about raising money for plane tickets and how to evade US security, according to Luger.
In a conversation recorded by the informant last month about securing the fake passports and crossing into Mexico, Daud told the informant that “we got the frickin’ equation, bro’… we just need to execute.”
In a March 23 conversation, Daud chillingly signaled his determination.
“The American identity is dead. Even if I get caught, I’m whatever,” the complaint quotes him saying. “I’m through with America. Burn my ID.”