“Minnesota men” go to trial (14)

Conspirator turned government informant Abdirahman Bashir returned to the stand for a fourth day yesterday. He completed direct examination in the morning before the lunch break. Defense counsel have commenced their cross examination of Bashir and should complete it today.

So far my estimate is that Bashir is an effective witness for the government. He recorded hours of conversations with defendants beginning in February 2015, culminating in the arrest of defendants Abdirahman Daud and Mohamed Farah in San Diego, as they purchased the fake passports produced by an undercover FBI operative (“Miguel”). Explicating the recordings as they have been played for the jury by the prosecution, Bashir has impassively testified in great detail about the defendants’ efforts to join ISIS and wage jihad in Syria.

At the outset of his testimony yesterday, Bashir’s impassivity dissolved as he discussed an anxiety attack he suffered while working with the FBI to transcribe the recordings during the summer of 2015. As he worked on a transcript discussing the death of his cousin Hanad Mohallim with ISIS in Syria, Bashir acknowledged that he smoked marijuana at one point during this period and called 911 for help with the panic attack.

He cried as he recalled the stress under which he was operating. “A lot of the community members would say ‘This guy is after us,’” Bashiir said. “Even some of my family members would tell their kids, my cousins, to stay away from me.” He came back to the same point during cross examination. “An entire community points the blame at me,” Bashiir said. “Everyone thinks it’s my fault but all I did was tell the truth.”

The recordings include the road trip from Minneapolis to San Diego in mid-April 2015. “I can’t believe I’m driving out of the land of the kuffar,” Daud says along the way. “I’m going to spit on America, wallahi, at the border crossing. [May Allah’s curse be upon you].” The feeling is mutual, bro.

The recordings and accompanying transcripts have been devastating so far. They exhibit the defendants’ burning desire to join ISIS. They are filled with the defendants’ consciousness of guilt. The demonstrate the defendants’ knowledge and intentions.

On cross examination defense counsel pursue all the usual avenues of attack and in the case of Murad Mohammad, representing Farah, a few that involving the fine points of jihad that probably haven’t been tried before in a Minnesota courtroom. Bashir concedes his previous lies under oath before the grand jury. He concedes his role in arranging the fake passport scheme that led to the trip to San Diego. Betraying the defendants, Bashir is out to save his own skin. Bashir was paid handsomely for his work on behalf of the FBI.

Yet the recordings stand on their own to support Bashir’s testimony as well as the charges of which defendants stand accused. The recordings show the other side of the face defendants present in court. They seem to me to present a formidable obstacle to the defense.

Star Tribune reporter Stephen Montemayor has a good summary of yesterday’s testimony. KSTP digital reporter Jennie Lissarrague provides a useful close-up here.