Photo by Jim Mone/AP
Opening statements in a federal trial in Minnesota for three Somali-American men accused of trying to assist Islamic State (IS) and fight with the militant group in Syria are expected to begin on Wednesday.Minnesota residents Mohamed Farah, Abdirahman Daud, and Guled Omar are charged with conspiring to provide material support to IS and commit murder outside the United States, according to a brief filed by prosecutors.
The men are part of a group of 10 people that faced similar federal charges. Six have already pleaded guilty to providing material support to IS, and another is believed to be in Syria, Ben Petok, a spokesman for the US Attorney's Office for the District of Minnesota, told Reuters.The twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul in Minnesota are home to the largest Somali community in the US — about 30,000 people. Authorities believe IS is focusing its US recruitment efforts there, reported the Guardian.Opening statements follow jury selection, which began on Monday and wrapped up late on Tuesday. A total of 16 jurors were selected, eight men and eight women who are all white. Ahead of the trial, Sadik Warfa, an acting spokesman for the defendants and their families, told Minnesota newspaper Star Tribune that "we must have a diverse jury."
During the selection process, one of the men who was eventually selected from the group of 100 potential jurors commented on diversity. "Looking around, I feel like this potential jury is steeped in whiteness," he said according to the Star Tribune.The trial was delayed after Monday's selection day saw ten potential jurors tell the judge they could not be impartial. "When I first walked in, I already had the mind-set of them being guilty," one woman said, reported the paper. "To be honest, I'm kind of uncomfortable even being in the room with them," said another.
The government expects to call 26 witnesses and introduce about 340 exhibits during the trial in US District Court in Minneapolis, the brief said.The government's evidence will include tape-recorded conversations in which the defendants discuss their criminal plans and murders committed by IS, and videos watched by the defendants depicting the use of explosives and firearms, the brief said.Along with the conspiracy counts, Farah and Daud are charged with perjury, and Farah with making a false statement to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents.Omar is also facing a charge of attempted financial aid fraud for trying to use $5,000 in federal student aid to fund travel to Syria, according to prosecutors. Each of the three defendants faces up to life in prison, Petok said. They are currently in federal custody.From March 2014 to April 2015, a group of individuals including the defendants allegedly met multiple times at various locations and agreed to travel to Syria to join and fight for IS, according to prosecutors.It's alleged there were three major efforts by the conspiracy to send members to Syria to join IS in May and November 2014 and in April 2015.According to prosecutors, the three defendants helped each other with plans to travel to Syria, such as getting passports and money, advising each other on how to contact the IS, and agreeing on ways to keep their plans secret from law enforcement.Speaking to reporters through translation from Wardik outside of the court on Tuesday, one of the mothers asked for a fair trial for her son and the rest of the defendants. She stressed that their families do not want any harm for America, saying "we love this country more than you guys.""Consider these men are very young and have a long life ahead of them, so give them a fair justice trial," she said.Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenews