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By David Bailey
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Three Somali-American men from Minnesota made persistent efforts to join Islamic State militants in Syria and conspired to help the group, a prosecutor said in closing arguments on Tuesday in their federal jury trial.
Mohamed Farah, Abdirahman Daud and Guled Omar are charged with conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State and commit murder outside the United States, charges that could result in a life sentence for each if they are convicted.
They participated wholeheartedly in the conspiracy from early 2014 through April 2015, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty told jurors in U.S. District Court in Minnesota.
They were going to put themselves under the control of Islamic State, and they knew that they would be ordered to kill, Docherty said.
Farah's attorney said his client planned to go to Syria and was willing to die fighting with anti-government forces, but had no plan to join Islamic State.
"Right or wrong, that is not a crime," attorney Murad Mohammad told jurors.
Prosecutors brought similar charges against 10 men they said were part of a group of extended family and friends who sometimes took classes on Islam together and planned to go overseas to fight for Islamic State.
Six men pleaded guilty to providing material support to Islamic State, some testifying at trial. A seventh man is believed to be in Syria.
The trial has exposed tensions in Minnesota's Somali community, where some believe the men were entrapped.
Docherty said the defendants made "persistent efforts" to join Islamic State and the evidence supported the testimony of charged friends turned witnesses.
"There simply is no entrapment in this case," Docherty said, adding that the defendants were "itching" to go.
Daud's attorney, Bruce Nestor, attacked the consistency and credibility of statements made by three defendants who pleaded guilty and testified for the government at trial.
"Mr. Daud is ... not someone with the intent, commitment, plan, or capability to commit murder for ISIS," he said.
Mohammad said Farah's plan to leave was "dead in the water" if not for his friend turned FBI informant offering fake passports.
Prosecutors presented two dozen witnesses, plus audiotaped conversations to support the charges and played Islamic State videos witnesses said the men watched.
Farah and Daud did not present any witnesses at trial. Omar testified his taped conversations were boasts or taken out of context.
Defense attorneys have consistently said the government lacked sufficient evidence to prove its case.
Farah and Daud also are charged with perjury, and Farah with making a false statement to FBI agents. Omar is also charged with attempting to use $5,000 in federal student aid to fund travel to Syria.
U.S. authorities have charged more than 80 individuals with Islamic State-related crimes since 2014.
(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)