Called to fight: Minnesota's ISIS recruits

Cae0a4 20150316 nur02
Abdi Nur posted this photo to his Twitter account. Nur graduated from Southwest High School in Minneapolis and last spring attended Normandale Community College. He left the Twin Cities on May 29, 2014, to fight with ISIS. He was 20. Twitter

Updated: March 9, 2016 | Created: March 25, 2015

Federal investigators say more than 20 young people have left Minnesota for Syria and Iraq to join violent extremists, including the terrorist group ISIS. Others were stopped at airports and arrested after trying to travel from the United States.

At least five of those recruits who made it to the Middle East are believed to have been killed during their time there.

• More: Suburban MN teens seemed unlikely fodder for ISIS

Their stories follow similar patterns: The suburban drifter or quiet student becomes rapidly (and often quietly) radicalized. Yet others were confident and outgoing, cared for their younger siblings, and thrived in school.

Losing its young people to fights overseas is not an unfamiliar story for Minnesota. Nearly eight years ago, a wave of recruits — mostly young Somali-American men — left the state to join al-Shabab in Somalia.

That earlier group was apparently inspired by familial and political connections — but the ISIS recruits are different. Lacking family or historical connections to Syria, their motivations remain mostly opaque to their friends and families left behind. Why did they leave? How did they get there? And who paid for it?

Here's what we know about Minnesota's alleged ISIS recruits.

Zacharia Abdurahman | Hamza Ahmed | Abdirahman Yasin Daud | Adnan Farah | Mohamed Abdihamid Farah | Yusra Ismail | Yusuf Jama | Douglas McAuthur McCain | Hanad Abdullahi Mohallim | Mohamud Mohamed Mohamud | Abdirahmaan Muhumed | Hanad Mustafe Musse | Abdi Nur | Guled Ali Omar | Abdirizak Warsame | Abdullahi Yusuf

Zacharia Abdurahman

In custody; cooperating with the government, and awaiting sentencing on a terror conspiracy charge

1ab4b0 20150421 isis mugs01
Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman Courtesy Sherburne County Jail

In November 2014, Zacharia Abdurahman, 19, along with Hanad Musse, Mohamed Farah and Hamza Ahmed, took a Greyhound bus from Minneapolis to New York. Federal officials say Abdurahman and the three men tried to catch planes that would help them get to Syria, but authorities stopped them before they could leave the country.

Upon their return to Minneapolis, Abdurahman, Musse and Farah met with three of their friends — Abdirahman Daud, Adnan Farah and Guled Omar — and tried to plan another attempt to leave for Syria to join ISIS, prosecutors allege. In February 2015, a paid FBI informant, who knew the six men, joined their discussions and recorded their conversations.

On March 30, Abdurahman allegedly provided a photo to the informant for use in obtaining a fake passport. Five days later, he demanded his photo back, expressing concern about traveling with the group.

A 2013 graduate of Heritage Academy of Science and Technology, Abdurahman was studying information technology at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, according to his mother. He also participated in an intensive, yearlong internship on computer systems with Hennepin County.

Abdurahman was arrested April 19 at his home in Columbia Heights.

In September 2015, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group.

 

Hamza Ahmed

In custody; intercepted by federal agents at John F. Kennedy International Airport; charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group and attempting to provide support to ISIS

25575b 20150318 hamza
Hamza Ahmed at Burnsville High School, his mugshot after his arrest and his Twitter account Burnsville High School yearbook

In November 2014, 19-year-old Hamza Ahmed and three other young men took a Greyhound bus from Minneapolis to New York. Federal officials say the men tried to catch planes that would help them get to Syria, but authorities stopped them before they could leave the country.

Federal prosecutors argued that Ahmed's posts on Twitter suggested he was willing to become a martyr. A judge agreed and ordered Ahmed, a nursing student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, to remain behind bars until his trial.

When Ahmed joined Twitter at the age of 16, his tweets suggested he was more interested in Lil' Wayne, the Chicago Bulls and being a big brother to his baby sister. Friends say Ahmed, who grew up in the Savage area and attended Burnsville High School, was not overtly religious. He worked at a local Subway. Friends described him as caring and passionate.

Police records show that when he was 18, Ahmed was suspended from school and charged with disorderly conduct after fighting another student in a hallway scuffle witnessed by more than 500 students. He did not graduate from the high school.

Connections

Ahmed attended Burnsville High School with Abdullahi Yusuf and Hanad Mohallim.

On Twitter, he offered religious advice to Mohallim and encouraged him to attend Friday prayers at a local mosque.

 

Abdirahman Yasin Daud

In custody; charged with conspiracy and attempt to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization

E652e8 20150519 daud
Abdirahman Yasin Daud Courtesy Sherburne County Jail

Daud was one of two Twin Cities men arrested in San Diego in April 2015 after allegedly driving there to buy fake passports. On the road trip to California, a confidential informant for the FBI recorded Daud, 21, saying that he would "spit on America at the border crossing."

The third youngest of 12 children, Daud lived in Minneapolis with his stepsister, whom he considers his mother, and cares for her young children while she is at work, according to his attorney. Daud also turns his paycheck over to his stepsister. He attended South High School and graduated from Heritage Academy in Minneapolis. He went on to study at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

A youth program manager who met Daud when he was in his teens testified that he was respectful, calm, and a role model to the younger children. He was one of six men arrested in April 2015.

 

Adnan Farah

In custody; charged with conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization

B62be8 20150421 isis farah
Adnan Abdihamid Farah Courtesy Sherburne County Jail

One of two brothers accused of conspiring to join ISIS, Adnan Farah was born in Minneapolis and attended South High School. He graduated in 2014. Just three days before his arrest in April, the 19-year-old had introduced his parents to a young woman he planned to marry, according to his mother.

Unlike several others in the alleged conspiracy, Farah never tried to travel from an airport in an effort to leave the country. Federal authorities say, however, he was involved with discussions to leave the United States to join ISIS. On his Facebook page, he posted photos of the late Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born terrorist leader.

His mother hid Farah's passport because she was afraid he would use it to leave the country, prosecutors allege.

Connections

Farah went to South High School in Minneapolis with Guled Omar. They were interviewed for a Star Tribune video after a massive food fight at the school. Farah is the younger brother of Mohamed Farah, who is also charged in the case.

 

Mohamed Abdihamid Farah

In custody; charged with conspiracy and attempt to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization

8d891b 20150611 farah01
Mohamed Abdihamid Farah Courtesy Washington County Jail

Mohamed Farah, 21, the oldest of seven children, allegedly left Minneapolis for San Diego on April 17 in hopes of getting a fake passport from source in California, unaware that the man he was asking to make the connection for him was actually an FBI informant. Prosecutors say Mohamed Farah was planning to cross into Mexico and fly out to the Middle East before federal agents arrested him three days later.

In November, 2014, Mohamed Farah, along with Zacharia Abdurahman, Hanad Musse and Hamza Ahmed, took a Greyhound bus to New York, hoping to catch planes that would help them get to Syria, according to federal authorities. That plan was foiled when agents intercepted them at the airport.

Mohamed Farah graduated in 2012 from Heritage Academy of Science and Technology and attended St. Paul College.

Connections

Farah's parents say he was an active member of the Al-Farooq Youth and Family Center, where several other defendants in the case also worshipped. He was arrested in San Diego along with Abdirahman Daud. His younger brother Adnan Farah was also charged in the case.

 

Yusra Ismail

At large; charged with stealing and misusing a passport

Ae1ae6 20150316 isis01
Yusra Ismail at her high school graduation in 2013 Via Flickr

Yusra Ismail strove to be modest. Quiet and soft-spoken by nature, she regularly donned the niqab, which covered all of her face except for her eyes. She tended a community garden and volunteered at her family's mosque in St. Paul before she switched to a new mosque in Bloomington. Her teachers at Lighthouse Academy of Nations, a Minneapolis charter school, remember a shy, kind student who never got in trouble.

About six months before she left the United States, Ismail became fixated on memorizing the Quran. Ismail's sister told MPR News her family feared she was taking her religious studies too far, saying there was a lack of balance in her life.

Ismail left the Twin Cities on Aug. 21, 2014. She was 19.

On the day she disappeared, Ismail was seen leaving her house wearing a Western-style dress and fitted headscarf rather than her usual loose-flowing hijab. She told her family she was going to attend a friend's bridal shower. But federal prosecutors said she boarded a plane to Norway using a passport she had stolen from a Minneapolis woman, according to court documents.

Ismail later called her family to say she was in Syria. Her specific whereabouts are unknown.

Connections

About two years before she left, Ismail began attending the Al-Farooq mosque in Bloomington. She studied Arabic and the Quran at the Al-Jazari Institute, the Islamic school located in the mosque.

Read more

 

Yusuf Jama

Believed dead

Prosecutors say Jama unsuccessfully tried to leave the U.S. to join ISIS in May 2014 along with Guled Omar and a friend who later became a confidential witness for the government. Their alleged plan was to drive to California and fly to the Middle East, but they backed off after Omar's family members confronted them. Jama later successfully flew from New York to Turkey on June 9, 2014, when he was 21. He was the first known traveler from Minnesota to leave the U.S. by taking a bus to John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to prosecutors.

Jama graduated from Minneapolis Public Schools in August 2012. Family members learned of his death last December.

According to prosecutors, in a March 2015 meeting, Guled Omar said Jama's younger brother informed him that Jama had died in battle in Syria.

Around the time of that meeting, a man who answered the door at Jama's home in Minneapolis told MPR News the family is grieving and declined to talk.

Connections

Public records show Jama shared an address in Minneapolis with Mohamed Osman, who authorities say traveled to Somalia in July 2012 at the age of 19 to join al-Shabab.

Read more

 

Douglas McAuthur McCain

Dead

09b65e 20140827 mccain2
Douglas McAuthur McCain as he appeared in a March 23, 2008, photo provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office. Associated Press

Douglas McAuthur McCain grew up in Minneapolis and the western Twin Cities suburb of New Hope. He attended high schools in the Robbinsdale district but did not graduate.

Funny and outgoing, McCain loved playing basketball. In his early 20s, he had a few minor brushes with police.

McCain converted to Islam about 10 years ago, saying on Twitter that it was the best thing that happened to him. Most recently, he lived in San Diego.

It's unclear what motivated McCain to join ISIS. In August 2014, the U.S. State Department confirmed that he was the first American to die while fighting for the terrorist group. He was in his early 30s.

Connections

A911cf 20140829 082914mother04
After Troy Kastigar's death, his aunt made a scrapbook filled with photographs of him. This photo shows Kastigar, right, with his friend Douglas McAuthur McCain. The two were in high school at the time. Both later were killed after joining al-Shabab and ISIS, respectively. Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

McCain was close friends with Troy Kastigar, who went to fight with the militant group al-Shabab in Somalia. The two men were classmates at Robbinsdale Cooper High School and played community basketball together. Kastigar was killed in 2009 fighting for al-Shabab.

McCain also appears to have been friends with Abdirahmaan Muhumed, another early ISIS recruit from Minneapolis.

Read more

 

Hanad Abdullahi Mohallim

Believed dead

668166 20150318 hanad
Hanad Mohallim's Burnsville High School yearbook photo and his Twitter profile Burnsville High School yearbook

A San Diego native, Hanad Abdullahi Mohallim was boisterous and fun-loving. He posted profanity-laced videos online, in which he referred to his bored upbringing in "the projects" of Apple Valley, a middle-class suburb south of St. Paul. He attended Burnsville High School but did not graduate.

Despite his self-described gangster life, Mohallim's Twitter updates revealed his gravitation toward religion in November 2013, about four months before he left the country.

Mohallim left the Twin Cities on March 9, 2014, at age 18.

Federal authorities believe Mohallim flew to Turkey and found his way to Syria to fight. His family told the FBI that three of his cousins also traveled to Syria, according to court documents. Mohallim confirmed to family in phone conversations in March 2014 that he was in Syria serving as a "border guard." He told them he believed he would go to jail if he returned to the United States.

Mohallim and his three cousins died late last year, according to the CBC. A woman who lived at Mohallim's Apple Valley home told MPR News the family is grieving.

Connections

Mohallim attended Burnsville High School with Hamza Ahmed and Abdullahi Yusuf.

Yusuf and Mohallim, who are Facebook friends, also attended a Minneapolis charter school together. The two men exchanged several phone calls and texts before Mohallim departed for Turkey, according to court documents.

On Twitter, Hamza Ahmed offered Mohallim advice on how to remain close to God. Mohallim, who was trying to turn his life around at the time, told Ahmed, "I love you for the sake of Allah."

Mohallim also asked Ahmed to pray that Allah would make Mohallim "become one of the righteous."

Read more

 

Mohamud Mohamed Mohamud

Believed dead

72958d 20150317 mohamud01
Mohamud Mohamud Courtesy Voice of America

Mohamud Mohamed Mohamud was a first-year student at Toronto's York University, where he liked to dance, was doing well in school and was described as "gregarious" and the "class clown," according to the family's attorney, Hussein Hamdani. 

The family was caught unawares when, on July 18, 2014, during a visit to see his father in Minneapolis, Mohamud managed to travel to Turkey. He was 19 or 20. The family traced his cell phone moving toward the Syrian border and contacted Hamdani to warn Canadian authorities that they believed Mohamud was headed to Syria to join ISIS. 

Mohamud is believed to have been killed in September 2014 by American strikes against ISIS in Syria. He was 20 when he died. Hamdani says the family still doesn't know who radicalized their son. University friends say he didn't express any militancy.

Mohamud's father in Minneapolis told the Voice of America's Somali service that his son disappeared without warning after saying he was going to a mosque for Friday prayers.

Read more

 

Abdirahmaan Muhumed

Believed dead; also known as Abdifatah Ahmed

D8afe3 20140611 abdirahmaan
Abdirahmaan Muhumed told MPR News through a series of Facebook messages that he was fighting alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Screengrab of Facebook public profile

Abdirahmaan Muhumed was one of the first Minneapolis men to enlist with ISIS. He was in his late 20s when he left toward the end of 2013.

But in the years before he went to the Middle East, Muhumed was known more for shooting hoops, lifting weights and partying. He was separated from three women and had fathered several children.

Muhumed was passionate about a rebel group fighting for the autonomy of Ethiopia's ethnic Somali region. But his sudden shift to radicalism alarmed friends. He told MPR News in June 2014 that he had joined ISIS to save the global Muslim community. On social media, the 29-year-old posted a picture of himself holding an AK-47 and a Quran, and another image of himself standing on top of a tank.

In August 2014, family members received a photo showing a dead body presumed to be Muhumed's. Friends and relatives believe he was killed in action.

Connections

Muhumed appeared to have known Douglas McCain. On Jan. 2, 2014, Muhumed shocked his Facebook friends after he posted a photo of himself with a caption that translated to "Syria." However, McCain seemed to encourage Muhumed to fight.

"[Brother] don't listen to these people," McCain told Muhumed in a Facebook exchange on Feb. 19, 2014. "They wish they had your heart continue protecting our brothers and sisters."

Read more

 

Hanad Mustafe Musse

In custody; cooperating with the government, and awaiting sentencing on a terror conspiracy charge

7c470e 20150421 isis musse
Hanad Mustafe Musse Courtesy Sherburne County Jail

Born in St. Louis Park, Musse was a full-time student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. He lived with his dad, a longtime federal government employee. His mother, who lives in Kenya, was a former professional basketball player in Somalia, according to Musse's attorney.

When he was 19, Musse was one of four young men who took a Greyhound bus from Minneapolis to New York in November 2014. Federal agents intercepted them at John F. Kennedy International Airport and prevented them from flying out. A criminal complaint says in the months to come, Musse continued to pursue plans to leave the country until his father confronted him about it.

In September 2015, Musse pleaded guilty to conspiring to support ISIS.

 

Abdi Nur

At large; charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group

630e11 20150316 nur01
Abdi Mohamud Nur from his ask.fm social media page. Ask.fm

Abdi Nur graduated from Southwest High School in Minneapolis and last spring attended Normandale Community College. He left the Twin Cities on May 29, 2014. He was 20.

In the two months before he left for Syria, Nur became more outwardly religious, began talking about jihad and prodded his family to pray more and wear traditional clothing, according to a criminal complaint. A family member told the FBI that the changes emerged at the same time Nur began attending the Al-Farooq Youth and Family Center, a large mosque in Bloomington.

Also during this time, Nur posted to Facebook a picture of a T-shirt bearing the word "Syria"; an image that says "The caliphate is coming"; and several photos of lions — an image commonly used by jihadists to symbolize strong warriors.

Nur left Minneapolis one day after Abdullahi Yusuf unsuccessfully tried to fly to Turkey.

Nur's Twitter history suggests he made it to Raqqa, the Syrian city that has become the self-proclaimed capital of ISIS. Last July, he tweeted that he was guarding the front lines against Kurdish rebels. He posted his most recent Twitter update on March 8.

80fd89 20150324 abdinur
Abdi Nur posted this photo to his Facebook profile in August 2014, months after leaving Minnesota to fight with ISIS. Facebook screenshot

Connections

Federal authorities say the day before Nur left the country, he drove Abdullahi Yusuf to a light rail stop in Minneapolis where Yusuf boarded a train to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. The two men also went shopping together at Macy's before their travels.

Once in Syria, Nur exchanged several private Facebook conversations with Mohamed "Miski" Abdullahi Hassan, an al-Shabab recruit from Minneapolis, according to a criminal complaint.

In August 2014, Hassan advised Nur to remain close to other Minneapolis men involved in the fighting. "Being connected in Jihad make you stronger and you can all help each other by fulilling the duties that Allah swt put over you... Like us in Somalia the brothers from mpls are well connected so try to do the same," Hassan wrote.

Nur attended the Al-Farooq mosque in Bloomington, which was frequented by several other alleged ISIS recruits.

Read more

 

Guled Ali Omar

In custody; charged with conspiracy and attempt to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization

41d8d4 20150430 guledomar
Guled Omar Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP

Prosecutors allege Guled Omar first tried to travel to Syria to join ISIS in May 2014, when he was 19. Omar had drained his college financial aid account in the weeks leading up to his trip. According to a friend who became a confidential informant for the FBI, Omar, Yusuf Jama and the informant planned to drive to California and make their way to Syria from there. But after Omar placed his luggage in the rental vehicle, his family member confronted him and the group was forced to abandoned their travel plans.

In November 2014, Omar tried to travel from Minneapolis to San Diego but was stopped at the airport and not allowed to board the plane.

Omar graduated from high school in Minneapolis and worked as a security guard to fund his education at a local community college, according to his attorney.

Prosecutors say Omar introduced Hamza Ahmed and Yusuf Jama into group meetings during which the men were allegedly planning their travels to Syria.

Connections

Omar's older brother, Ahmed Ali Omar, in 2007 was one of the first Somali-American men from the Twin Cities to join the terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia. Another brother, Mohamed Ali Omar, was convicted of threatening FBI agents who came to his door to investigate Guled Omar in connection with supporting ISIS.

He was friends with Adnan Farah. Both men attended South High School in Minneapolis.

 

Abdirizak Warsame

In custody; cooperating with the government and awaiting sentencing on a terror conspiracy charge.

Afaf50 20151210 warsame mug horizontal
Abdirizak Warsame Courtesy of Anoka County Sheriff's Office

Abdirizak Warsame was arrested on Dec. 10, 2014, becoming the 10th man to be charged with planning to join ISIS in Syria.

Prosecutors say Warsame, who worked as a security guard, encouraged the planned departures of several friends, some who have pleaded guilty and others who are awaiting trial, set to start in May. Authorities say Warsame at one point became the leader of the group.

He was charged with providing support to a foreign terrorist organization, as well as conspiring to do so.

But two months later, Warsame pleaded guilty to plotting to join ISIS.

Warsame graduated in 2013 from Heritage Academy of Science and Technology in Minneapolis, a school that several other defendants attended. A family member said Warsame, who helps his family pay the bills, was a student at Normandale Community College.

Connections

The 20-year-old Eagan resident is also accused of providing one of the defendants, Adnan Farah, $200 for Farah's passport application, and seeking to put another traveler, Yusuf Jama, in touch with ISIS contacts.

 

Abdullahi Yusuf

Intercepted by federal agents at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport; in custody, cooperating with the government, and awaiting sentencing on a terror-conspiracy charge

46369f 20150318 abdullahi
Abdullahi Yusuf at Burnsville High School, his mug shot after his arrest, and his public Facebook profile Burnsville High School yearbook

Abdullahi Yusuf grew up in the Burnsville area. Relative say he struggled academically at the local high school and alternative school. His family later transferred him to a charter school and then to Heritage Academy of Science and Technology in Minneapolis. He graduated from Heritage Academy and enrolled in Inver Hills Community College.

At the Al-Farooq mosque in Bloomington, Yusuf was known to friends as a "hooper" who was so tall he could dunk basketballs in the gym. But he eventually began to withdraw from social circles, according to a friend from the mosque.

Soon after turning 18, on May 28, 2014, Yusuf tried to board a plane from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to Istanbul. But the FBI, tipped off by a passport official's suspicions, were waiting for him. Six months later, he was charged with conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terror group.

Yusuf pleaded guilty to the charge and is awaiting sentencing. A federal judge had released him to a halfway house where Yusuf received counseling and other support - an experiment that drew the attention of counterterrorism experts around the country. But Yusuf was sent back into custody after apparently violating rules of the halfway house.

Connections

Federal authorities say the day before Abdi Nur left the country, he drove Yusuf to a light rail stop in Minneapolis, where Yusuf boarded a train to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. The two men also went shopping together at Macy's before their travels.

Yusuf attended Burnsville High School for a time with Hanad Mohallim and Hamza Ahmed. Yusuf and Mohallim, who are Facebook friends, also attended a Minneapolis charter school together. The two men exchanged several phone calls and texts before Mohallim departed for Turkey, according to court documents.

Yusuf and several other individuals who tried to travel to Syria attended the Al-Farooq Youth and Family Center, a large mosque in Bloomington.

Read more