The trial of three Somali-American men accused of planning to join the Islamic State began with some courtroom drama, as ten prospective jurors declared they could not be impartial towards the defendants, and one defense lawyer told the judge he has been feuding with his client.
With half of the 100 potential jurors interviewed by the judge, there have been 29 dismissals, ten of them people who stated they could not be impartial. U.S. District Judge Michael Davis made it clear to the jury pool that they would be hearing a high-profile terrorism case, saying “this may not be the case for you to sit on.”
KTSP News gave Davis credit for handling the tense courtroom well, including one humorous exchange in which he warned potential jurors they would see “horrific” evidence comparable to a “Friday the 13th” movie, and one of the jurors declared he was a fan of such films.
“When I first walked in, I already had the mind-set of them being guilty,” said one juror, as quoted by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
“To be honest, I’m kind of uncomfortable even being in the room with them,” said another.
According to the Star-Tribune, the prosecutors and defense attorneys have not begun questioning the jurors yet.
The three defendants are Abdirahman Daud and Mohamed Farah, both 22, and Guled Omar, 21. Six of their friends have already pleaded guilty to similar charges arising from a lengthy FBI investigation, while another friend actually reached Syria and joined ISIS.
Farah’s attorney Murad Mohammad filed a motion to withdraw with Judge Davis on Monday, claiming there had been “a breakdown in communication, and that Farah had refused to work with him to prepare for trial,” as the Star-Tribune puts it.
Farah also “refused to sign paperwork that could have qualified Mohammad for government money, because he thought it would compromise his attorney’s allegiance to him.”
The defendant further claims Mohammad pressured him to enter a guilty plea. Another attorney has already withdrawn from Farah’s case.
Davis refused Mohammad’s motion to withdraw. His father nevertheless complained about an unfair trial, stating he’s “kind of crazy right now,” because his son “doesn’t have a lawyer.”
Protesters outside the courthouse complained of FBI “entrapment” and insisted the defendants were innocent.
The “horrific” evidence Judge Davis warned about will probably consist of ISIS recruitment videos. NPR anticipates the trial will “offer the most detailed public accounts yet of how the extremist group recruited nearly a dozen young men from the Twin Cities,” following a distressingly successful recruitment drive from Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab over the preceding decade.
The six ISIS recruits who pled guilty have said watching Islamic State videos on YouTube brought them together, and convinced them they had a duty to “protect fellow Muslims who were under attack by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.” Several of those who pled guilty are expected to be called as witnesses during the trial.
Daud, Farah, and Omar are charged with providing material support to ISIS, including helping other potential recruits obtain passports, and “raiding their college funds and savings accounts to get money for the group to travel.”