The case lay at the intersection of immigration, Islam, and terrorism and, coincidentally, ended the week following the victory of President-elect Donald Trump. To borrow a Trumpian term, the “Minnesota men,” as media generically referred to a circle of Somali-American ISIS supporters, are bad hombres.
The first “Minnesota men” were indicted in April 2015; eventually 10 in total were charged with seeking to leave the United States to join ISIS in Syria. One is presumed dead in the Middle East. Six pleaded guilty: Zacharia Abdurahman, Hamza Ahmed, Adnan Farah, Hanad Musse, Abdirizak Warsame, and Abdullahi Yusuf. And three—Abdirahman Daud, Guled Omar, and Mohamed Farah (Adnan Farah’s older brother)—contested the charges at trial in federal district court and were found guilty earlier this year.
Despite the gravity of the offenses committed by the defendants, all well-spoken males in their early 20s with access to education and employment, they enjoyed substantial support within the Somali community and among the Twin Cities crowd of social justice warriors, such as those gathered under the umbrella of Minnesotans Against Islamophobia. These supporters charged the FBI with entrapping the defendants and demanded their freedom. The incredibly incriminating evidence produced by the government—including 40 hours of recorded conversations with an informant—proved that accusation ludicrous. Even the defendants themselves rejected it. “I’m certainly not being persecuted for my faith. I was certainly not entrapped,” Daud declared at his sentencing hearing. “I was not going there to pass out medical kits or food. I was going strictly to fight and kill on behalf of the Islamic State.”
The judge directed any children present to leave the courtroom and then played excerpts of the gruesome ISIS videos that inspired the young men as they plotted to join the group in Syria. The defendants had seen the videos, of course, many times over. He didn’t play them for the defendants; he played them to show their family and friends in attendance their deadly objectives.
The judge orchestrated the sentencing hearings to serve a purpose beyond punishment. In their sentencing memorandum for Omar, the purported ringleader, prosecutors suggested why sending such a message was necessary: “No trial in the aggregate memory of the U.S. Attorney’s Office has been conducted in more of an atmosphere of intimidation, harassment, and incipient violence than the trial of this case. The families of cooperating defendants were harassed in the courtroom, in full view of the testifying witness; there was a fistfight in the corridor outside the courtroom; multiple individuals had to be ejected from the courtroom for not following the Court’s rules of behavior.”
Judge Davis rewarded the cooperating defendants with lenient sentences—in one case, time served, in the other case, 30 months—and those who didn’t cooperate but pleaded guilty with sentences of 10 to 15 years. He gave two of the men found guilty at trial, Daud and the older Farah, 30 years. Guled Omar, who testified at trial and baldly lied to the jury about his exploits, received 35 years.