The show trial dubbed by our local capitalist media, “Minnesota’s Terror Trial,” ended in November with the sentencing of the nine young men (eight Somali and one Oromo) who pled to or were convicted of charges relating to alleged attempts to join the “designated foreign terrorist organization” ISIS (the Islamic State).
pre-sentence period—which lasted for five and a half months—and
sentencing were another roller coaster ride through the Criminal
Injustice System for the young men, their families, and their
communities. They have been on this roller coaster since the
Countering Violent Extremism Program (“CVE”) came to town almost
three years ago.
could have been dubbed the “CVE Trial” if the media were more
concerned with accuracy and less concerned with flash. District
Attorney for Minnesota Andrew Luger has been the program’s champion
and point person since its inception, bringing together Homeland
Security, the FBI, and state, county, and city law enforcement
agencies and bearing down on the local Somali community with
enticements and entrapments designed and destined to “divide and
conquer” this previously cohesive community of immigrants and first
generation American citizens.
was frequently rumored that Andrew Luger would ride the constant
media coverage generated by these arrests, trials, convictions and
sentences all the way to Washington, D.C. as Hillary Clinton’s
this process the judge is supposed to play a mediator role between
the prosecution and defense, seeking the truth and insuring some
measure of “fairness,” but working-class people and oppressed
communities know this system has never served us. Marx and Engels
wrote in the “Communist Manifesto”: “Your jurisprudence is but
the will of your class made into law for all,” and nearly 170 years
later, this is as true as ever.
Michael J. Davis, Senior District Court Judge for Minnesota, showed
remarkable hubris from start to finish. The fact that a Black, civil
rights award-winning jurist has taken it upon himself to find and
eliminate what he repeatedly referred to as a “terror cell” in
the Somali community is surely no accident. At trial he took copious
notes, and during sentencing he repeatedly referred to a “nine to
20-person cell” that is still active.
the final day of sentencing, when those convicted at trial were to be
sentenced, the judge told the packed courtroom, “This community has
to understand that there is a jihadist cell in this community—its
tentacles spread ou.” (illustrating yet again that he neither
understands the actual meaning of “jihad” nor comprehends his
limited role in presiding over these trials and passing sentence on
these particular young
two young men who cooperated with the prosecution and testified
against their friends, Abdullahi Yusuf and Abdirizak Warsame, were
the first to be sentenced and they received the lightest
sentences—time served for Yusuf and 30 months for
Warsame—confirming for us all that the judge had no intention of
listening even to his own hired “de-radicalization” expert, who
had deemed Warsame’s risk of re-offending (meaning trying again to
join a terrorist group) to be high and
designated him dangerous.
prosecution took the unusual step of testifying on behalf of these
cooperators and even though the judge himself said he still believes
Warsame is a “jihadist,” he closely followed the prosecution’s
lead and issued a two and a half year sentence, an appropriate reward
for a job well done at trial: “For the next round of sentencings,
it’s a whole new ballgame. So count your blessings.”
“next round” of sentencing was for the four young men who pled
guilty but did not cooperate with the prosecution. The prosecution
was asking for 15 years each for Zacharia Abdurahman, Hamza Ahmed,
Hanan Musse, and Adnan Farah. The extremely prejudicial ISIS videos
that played such a dramatic part in the trial were back for
sentencing. The judge revealed that he watched hours and hours of
these videos to prepare himself to issue sentences.
each defendant in turn he proceeded to clear the courtroom of young
children and play a gruesome video, continuously prodding the
defendant: “How could you watch this? You watched video after video
over and over. How could you support this organization? Are you a
at trial, it was clear the men were taken as ISIS proxies, as if
watching these videos was equivalent to personally committing the
atrocities. “I am a terrorist” defendant after defendant declared
defense attorneys seemed to agree that the best strategy was to
accept the label of “terrorist,” argue that the experience since
being arrested had enabled a transformation, and beg for mercy. It
was a very demeaning process, excruciatingly painful to watch for
those who care about the defendants personally or care about justice
generally. And it was all the more painful because the mercy that was
begged for was not granted. Abdurahman, Ahmed, Musse, and Farah will
serve 10 years each.
the final day, the young men who were convicted at trial on charges
including Conspiracy to Murder outside the United States, which
carries a possible life sentence, appeared one after the other in
Judge Davis’ courtroom. The overflow room that had been used for
the previous two days was not available, and those who were not
family or media (or members of the jury, who returned to watch the
sentencing) were made to wait in the lobby.
Guled Omar’s sentencing, in an unprecedented move, no one was
allowed even in the lobby. The building was cleared and we waited
outside, following tweets from reporters in the courtroom to keep up
with the proceedings.
the capitalist press has implied that some defendants accepted pleas
(which meant they must be guilty) while others CHOSE to go to trial
(showing a “refusal to take responsibility for their actions”)
and many supporters have asserted, equally problematically, that the
bravest young men from the group steadfastly refused to plead to
something they did not do and insisted on going to trial, both of
these positions mistakenly placed power in the hands of the
defendants that they never really had.
truth is that the Criminal Injustice system in this country does not
give defendants this level of self-determination. Those who pled
guilty did so under the enormous pressure of multiple charges, each
carrying potentially long sentences, knowing that members of their
circle had already succumbed to the pressure. Some were even
“cooperating” with the prosecution, knowing that no Muslim tried
on such charges during this seemingly endless “War on Terror” has
been found “not guilty” by a jury.
that pressure were not enough, a Superseding Indictment was filed in
October of 2015. In that indictment, filed more than six months after
the bulk of the arrests in this case, the charge of Conspiracy to
Commit Murder Abroad—which carries a potentiallife sentence—was
added to the list of charges on the five young men remaining. At that
point, it seemed inevitable that anyone offered the chance to plead
to the lesser charge, carrying a 15-year sentence, would do so.
was a chance that was never offered to Mohamed Farah, Abdirahman
Daud, or Guled Omar. To his credit Adnan Farah held out until the
trail was almost ready to begin. He was being pressured mercilessly
to not only plead, but to testify against his older brother. Leverage
seems to be the only reason he was ever charged and his 10-year
sentence is likely punishment not for anything he actually did but
for how long he held out against the full power of the US government.
for the elder Farah, Daud, and Omar, the prosecution had decided
these young men were going on trial for their lives. At the end of a
deeply flawed trial, the three were found guilty by a jury of the
prosecution was seeking 30 years each for Mohamed Farah and
Abdirahman Daud, and 40 years for Guled Omar, the one they decided
was the ringleader of the alleged conspiracy.
who see a different kind of conspiracy afoot would point out that
Guled was one of the first people the FBI approached when CVE came to
town. They wanted him to work with them, spying on his friends. He
refused over and over again. So the FBI decided he was dangerous and
drew a target on his back. It is possible that Guled, like Adnan, was
punished not for what he actually did, but for what he would NOT
do—for refusing to help the government send his friends to jail.
Farah was the first to appear. He was made to watch the graphic ISIS
video that ends with the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot. Had
Mohamed Farah set a Jordanian pilot on fire? It did not matter. The
judge sentenced the 22-year-old to 30 years.
next to appear was Abdirahman Daud, and the same public shaming that
we had become so familiar with took place. This time the judge seemed
to engage in genuine dialog with the defendant. He wanted Daud to
know that he doesn’t hate Islam, that he will challenge anyone who
claims Islam is a dirty religion. The rapport melted away as the
judge passively read the sentence—30 years.
finally, it was time to sentence Guled Omar. “Your brother is in
Somalia fighting with Al-Shabaab. You have another brother who has
gotten in trouble as a result of your case,” the Judge declared,
again showing an uncanny inability to focus on what the young men
were found guilty of by the jury. The prosecutor called him
“irredeemable,” but the judge seemed more concerned with his
charisma. “You’re charismatic, and that’s why you are being
locked up for the period that you are.” The 21-year-old received a
mother commented to me that it almost felt like there was no Judge in
this case, just the defendant, her boy, against the entire
government. No mediator between them, just a government mouthpiece.
It was clear from the start and throughout that this prosecution was
political in nature. Now it falls on all of us to stand by these
young men and their families through their harsh sentences. No
Justice, Just US.
The article above was written by Karen Schraufnagel and is reprinted
from Socialist Action.
The photo: Farhiyo Mohamed, right, the mother of defendant
Abdirahman Daud, and a second woman emerge in tears from the federal
courthouse in Minneapolis after the verdict was delivered in the ISIL
trial. Jim Gerhz / Minneapolis Star Tribune.