Clockwise, Hanad Mustafe Musse, 19, Guled Omar, 20, Zacharia Yusuf Adurahman, 19, and Adnan Abdihamid Farah, 19. They are four of six Minnesota men of Somali descent that have been charged in a criminal complaint with traveling or attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIL. Courtesy Sherburne County Sheriff's Office
The FBI paid more than $41,000 to an informant who provided information implicating former friends in a terrorism conspiracy case against seven Twin Cities men, according to court documents that came to light Thursday.
The payments were disclosed in a motion filed Thursday by the defendants’ attorneys, who allege they undermine the informant’s credibility. The informant, code-named “Rover,” by FBI agents, was paid based on performance, they said.
“Most importantly of all, the informant has been paid in the most valuable currency of all — his freedom,” wrote attorney Andrew Birrell. “Despite lying under oath multiple times and having participated in the same conduct charged in the indictment, the informant has remained free.”
Birrell is asking a judge to order the government to identify the informant and make him available for questioning by defense lawyers. Birrell, who represents defendant Hanad Musse, wrote the motion on behalf of all the defendants, who have been accused in a conspiracy to leave the United States and fight alongside terrorists as members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Defense attorneys say they want to interview the informant to determine if they have grounds for accusing the government of entrapment and inducing the defendants to break the law.
The informant, who began working for the FBI in February, had previously lied to agents and to a federal grand jury about his activities in the alleged conspiracy, according to the FBI.
His tape-recorded conversations provide key evidence concerning various alleged plots by the defendants to leave the United States. All the men, between the ages of 19 and 21, are currently in Twin Cities area county jails as they await trial. Defense attorneys will argue for their pretrial release in a September hearing. Up to 20 motions in the case may be filed by the end of the week.
The 10-month investigation ended in April when six of the men were arrested — four in the Twin Cities and two more in California. The informant was among a group who traveled to San Diego, allegedly en route overseas, and was whisked away following their arrest.
Weeks later, FBI Agent Harry Samit testified at a hearing that by then the informant had been paid $12,725 for providing information about the defendants’ plans. Payment was based on whether “the confidential human source makes the meetings that he is requested to go to by subjects, if he utilizes the recording equipment correctly, if he reports accurately, if he reports in a timely fashion,” he said. “He is exposing himself to a certain degree of danger as a — so the amount is decided based on that task.”
In the course of his testimony, Samit appeared to imply that there is more than one informant involved in the investigation. When asked how he became familiar with the case, Samit said his role included “conducting interviews of witnesses, operating confidential human sources and debriefing them.”
Testimony shows that the informant helped several defendants connect with a contact in San Diego who would provide them fake passports, allegedly so they could cross into Mexico and fly from there to the Middle East. The contact was actually an undercover FBI agent, according to charging documents.
At least one of the defendants had previously been in contact with a Minneapolis man who fled to Syria to fight with ISIL in May, 2014, according to the FBI. From Syria, Abdi Nur had told the suspects that he had a contact in Mexico who could provide fake travel documents, but he was not able to follow through, prosecutors say.
The motions also shed new light on the inner workings of the investigation, including confirmation that the FBI gathered evidence on Musse by placing tracking devices on five vehicles and gleaned information from his cellphone and Facebook account.
Muslim leaders speak
The document was filed on the same day several Twin Cities Muslim leaders delivered a new critique of Countering Violent Extremism, (CVE), a federal pilot program designed to counter terrorist recruiting of young Muslim Americans.
Speaking outside a Minneapolis mosque, they said it is alienating Somalis and Muslims, as well as stalling efforts from within the community to combat terror recruiting. Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Minnesota, said the program could subvert their privacy and religious freedom.
He also said Somali leaders have held their own productive summits on safeguarding their youths, and that funding for community programs should come from state and local grants and foundations, not the counterterrorism budget.
As they spoke, the local leaders were flanked by relatives of some of the defendants, including the mother of Guled Omar and the parents of brothers Adnan and Mohamed Farah. The mothers were present, they said, because they believe their sons’ arrest resulted from government entrapment because of failed CVE efforts.
Other Somali-American leaders, however, praised the CVE effort. Abdimalik Mohamed, chair of the 15-member Somali American Task Force, said the program opened doors with foundations and corporations that never before invested in the community and resulted in expanded tutoring, sports activities and mentorship. The Task Force signed an agreement with U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger that the program would not violate civil liberties or take part in surveillance or intelligence gathering.
“We really looked closely at the concerns of civil rights and civil liberties, and it’s important to protect that,” Mohamed said. “But at the same time there is recruitment happening in our community, so we have to find a solution for that.”