Three Minnesota men convicted of conspiring to join Islamic State

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Three Minnesota men were convicted on Friday of conspiring to commit murder in Syria on behalf of the Islamic State militant group, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Jurors convicted Guled Omar, 21, Abdirahman Daud and Mohamed Farah, both 22, on multiple counts in Minnesota federal court. All three could face life in prison.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger told a news conference after the verdict the evidence showed the men, part of a larger group of Somali-American men charged in the case, were not “wayward kids who just got caught up in a fantasy.”

“They wanted to fight for a brutal terrorist organization, kill innocent people, and destroy their own families in the process,” Luger said.

The men accused of making multiple efforts to leave the United States for Syria were convicted on all but one of the charges against them including conspiring and attempting to provide material support to Islamic State.

Farah was also found guilty of lying to a grand jury and FBI agents and Omar of attempting to use $5,000 of student financial aid in the plan. Jurors acquitted Daud of a perjury charge.

Prosecutors put on more than two dozen witnesses, secret audio recordings and terror videos in the trial that went to the jury on Wednesday afternoon.

Farah’s attorney, Murad Mohammad, said he and his client were disappointed in the verdict. They had argued that Farah’s actions did not rise to the level of conspiring to murder anyone or provide material support to Islamic State.

“Farah fell victim to ISIL’s slick marketing campaign, dusted with enough misrepresentations of Islam to make it appear to be a legitimate Islamic organization,” Mohammad said, using a different acronym for Islamic State.

Lawyers for Daud and Omar did not immediately return requests for comment on the verdicts.

Prosecutors brought similar charges against 10 men - including the three convicted on Friday - whom they said were part of a group of friends and extended family who planned to go overseas to fight for Islamic State. IS has been designated by the United States as a terror group.

Six of the 10 pleaded guilty to providing material support to Islamic State and 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 by a former group member turned paid FBI informant who testified at trial.

Luger said the jury rejected the idea of entrapment.

(Reporting by Eric Beech in Washington, Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, David Bailey in Minneapolis and Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Matthew Lewis)