UPDATE 1:36 p.m. This story has been updated with Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen’s comments.
We’d be naive to think what happened in Minneapolis last weekend couldn’t happen anywhere in Minnesota, according to Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen.
On Monday, federal authorities charged six men with conspiring to travel or attempting to travel to join the ISIS terrorist group fighting in Syria.
ISIS is also known as ISIL or the Islamic State.
The six, arrested in multiple operations in Minneapolis and San Diego on Sunday, had been targeted as part of a months-long surveillance operation by the FBI.
A criminal complaint released Monday recounted the men’s efforts to get from Minneapolis to airports in New York and California, intending to travel from there to Europe or Asia and eventually to the Middle East.
United States v Farah Et Al Criminal Complaint
The complaint also alleges that some of the men were in touch with Abdi Nur, a Twin Cities man who left the country last year and has been presumed to be fighting with ISIS.
Bohlen said in a phone interview on Monday that he and members of his department have had conversations with elders in the Somali community in Faribault to keep the dialogue open and to let them know the police department is a safe place to go with concerns.
It’s the lack of a positive adult mentor that can sometimes trigger an interest in organizations like ISIS or al-Shabab, Bohlen said.
“It’s a sense of belonging to something, of having a caring and interested positive adult role model,” Bohlen said. “An ISIS or an al-Shabab will prey on that if it’s missing.”
Calls and emails to two leaders in Faribault’s Somali community were not immediately returned on Monday.
There was no evidence the men arrested Sunday threatened to do harm in Minnesota, said U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Andy Luger. Their main focus was to go to Syria to join ISIS, he said.
Luger said six men “recruited each other ... friend to friend, brother to brother.” They got help from Nur, who was already charged and in Syria.
The complaint says Nur is working from Syria to recruit other young men from Minnesota.
There’s not one “master recruiter” in Minnesota, Luger said, but peer to peer radicalization is at play.
After five of the men tried and failed to leave the country in November, they allegedly made plans to obtain false passports from a source of Nur’s in Mexico.
But they began to suspect in March that Nur had been killed, because they had not heard from him recently.
The men lined up another source in California, unaware that the man they were asking to make the connection for them was actually an FBI informant. And the man who was to provide the passports was himself an undercover FBI employee.
Last Friday, two of the men left for California to pick up the passports. Authorities arrested them in San Diego and rounded up the others in Minneapolis.
The men named in the complaint were listed as Mohamed Abdihamid Farah; Adnan Abdihamid Farah; Abdurahman Yasin Daud; Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman; Hanad Mustafe Musse; and Guled Ali Omar.
According to the complaint, the Minneapolis office of the FBI conducted a 10-month investigation of young men who were trying to join the ISIS campaign in Syria.
In the course of that investigation, the complaint says, “the government has prevented a number of these individuals from traveling to Syria.”
Four of the men appeared in federal court in St. Paul on Monday afternoon.
Prior to his attempted departure between May 8 and May 21 last year, Omar, 20, drained money from his federal student financial aid account, withdrawing $5,000 cash, according to the complaint.
In addition, on May 23, 2014, he withdrew $1,200 from his personal bank account.
He deposited $5,500 into his bank savings account on May 29 after his travel plans failed.
Omar’s older brother, Ahmed Omar, traveled from Minnesota to Somalia in late 2007 to join al-Shabab, according to the complaint. He remains a fugitive.
Luger said the defendants were all friends and met regularly to plan their travels to Syria. Abdullahi Yusuf, who pleaded guilty in February to trying to join ISIS, was also part of this group, Luger said.
In May, Yusuf was stopped while trying to board a plane to Istanbul from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
“We have a problem of terror recruiting in Minnesota,” Luger said Monday. “It’s not a Somali problem. ... It is our problem.”
The stories of young people leaving to fight are likely to continue without “investment in the Somali community to build community strength and create opportunities for our youth,” Mohamud Noor, executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota, said in a statement.
Noor said he was especially saddened because one of the indicted men “came to me and sat in my office seeking assistance.”
He did not say which man, but added, “I was unable to help because we simply don’t have the resources to intervene before it’s too late.”