Six Somali-American men from Minneapolis were arrested Sunday and charged Monday with conspiracy to support terrorism in the largest Minnesota operation — and one of the biggest nationally — to result from an eight-year federal investigation into terrorist recruiting in the United States.
Two of the six were arrested by FBI agents in San Diego, where they were planning to pick up passports and then cross into Mexico, where they planned to board a flight to the Middle East, federal authorities said Monday.
The other four were arrested by the FBI in Minneapolis.
All six were charged with conspiracy to aid and support a terrorist organization, specifically the group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
The two arrested in California are Mohamed Abdihamid Farah and Abdurahman Yasin Daud, according to court documents. The four arrested in Minneapolis are Adnan Abdihamid Farah, Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, Hanad Mustafe Musse and Guled Ali Omar.
Two of the four are thought to be brothers, authorities said.
The arrests, which followed a 10-month investigation, indicate that young, disaffected Somali men in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area continue to be targeted and influenced by sophisticated social media campaigns carried out by ISIL, investigators said.
In a conversation recorded by an FBI source, one of the alleged conspirators describes his disgust with living in the United States.
"The American identity is dead. Even if I get caught, whatever, I'm through with America. Burn my ID," he said, according to a transcript filed in connection with the case.
"These men met regularly to plan their secretive trips," said Andy Luger, U.S. attorney for Minnesota. "These are focused men, intent on joining a terrorist group by any means possible.
"This problem is not a Somali problem. It's not an immigrant problem," Luger added. "It's a Minnesota problem."
The investigation also underscores the depth of planning that such men will undertake to evade detection, leave the United States and get to the Middle East. The suspects, primarily between the ages of 18 and 24, "plotted to travel to Syria to fight," and were in contact with a Somali-American who successfully made the trip last May, according to a criminal complaint released Monday.
That man, Abdi Nur, "remains in contact with individuals in Minnesota who aspire to travel overseas. From his locale in Syria, Nur recruits individuals and provides assistance to those who want to leave Minnesota to fight abroad," according to an FBI agent's statement that outlines the facts in the complaint.
Luger and FBI Special Agent in Charge Rick Thornton said a major break in the case occurred when one of the original conspirators "had a change of conscience," and came to the FBI to describe the conspiracy.
In the last two years, more than 20 Somali-Americans from Minnesota have left to fight alongside terrorists under the banner of ISIL, according to the FBI.
Four others, who were arrested while trying to leave, now face federal prosecution under charges that they intended to fight for ISIL or the al-Shabab terrorist brigade in Somalia. Two of those cases involve attempts to leave via the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and the JFK airport in New York.
An alleged conspirator of Nur, Abdullahi Yusuf, of Inver Grove Heights, Minn., was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport last May, a day before Nur successfully flew way.
The six arrested over the weekend were part of the same circle of conspirators that included Yusuf and another man from Minneapolis, Hamza Ahmed, according to court records.
Yusuf has pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to ISIL and Ahmed — who tried to fly from JFK — has been indicted on similar charges.