“Minnesota men” go to trial (7)

Abdullahi Yusuf (pictured in the thumbnail on the home page) was the first three key prosecution witnesses to testify at trial. Yusuf has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material assistance to ISIS by joining the group in Syria. Three of his alleged co-conspirators and “former friends,” as he called them, are the defendants on trial.

Yusuf’s cross examination extended through mid-afternoon yesterday. Representing Abdirahman Daud, defense attorney Bruce Nestor proceeded methodically through the statements offered by Yusuf to law enforcement and the prosecution as he sought to cooperate with the government following his arrest. He acknowledged his many lies in the course of his “proffer meetings” documented in the FBI notes on the meetings. The Star Tribune’s Stephen Montemayor sums up the course of the cross-examination in “Defense questions credibility of key government witness at ISIL trial.”

Yusuf was a high school senior at the time of most of the events recounted in his testimony. He was one of the youngest members of the group of “Minnesota men” who sought to join ISIS in Syria. He is intelligent and well spoken but dealt his dealings with law enforcement reflect his youth, his inexperience and his willingness to lie. If he is not stupid — I don’t think he is — he dealt with FBI agents as though they were. As he said in another context, he felt cornered as he was about to be arrested.

The cross-examination of cooperating witnesses is standard stuff. To get a look inside criminal conspiracies, the government has to work with men of less than stellar character. If you are a solid citizen, you don’t go to work for organized crime or aspire to join the jihad. Like the friends of Eddie Coyle, the friends of Abdullahi Yusuf are unlikely candidates for work in law enforcement. A few of Yusuf’s friends in fact made it to ISIS in Syria. Truth, justice and the American way are not their lodestar. If Yusuf were the only government witness, the prosecution would have a hard time establishing its case beyond a reasonable doubt, but the prosecutors are early in their case. We’ll see.

The courtroom is full of supporters of the defendants, mostly their Somali families and friends. They were thrilled with the impeachment of Yusuf with his prior inconsistent statements. I chose to spend the afternoon in the overflow courtroom where the chortling was more audible than before Judge Davis, who is running a tight ship. The overflow courtroom was also nearly full of supporters of defendants. It’s almost unbelievable.

Representing Guled Omar, defense counsel Glenn Bruder went last. One portion of his cross examination seemed to me to misfire. Bruder elicited Yusuf’s concession that he had erroneously accused Omar of threatening him during their detention at the Anoka County Jail. Bruner’s questions suggested that the error was maliciously false.

Yusuf conceded that he had made a mistake and left it at that. Judge Davis, however, wanted to know more. In response to Judge Davis’s question, Yusuf explained that he saw a Somali who looked like Omar entering a cell down the hall from him. The Somali shouted at Yusuf that they were going to get him and his family. With Yusuf’s explanation, it sounded like an understandable mistake. The Mafia overtones did no service to the defendants.

Leaving the courthouse yesterday afternoon, I saw the usual contingent of five or so visibly armed DHS officers in police uniform with a dog. I also saw an ATF K9 officer. The security at the courthouse tells a story of its own.

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