The end approacheth. The prosecution called its final witnesses and rested yesterday. The last two government witnesses testified to the undercover sting operation leading to the arrest of two of the three defendants (Abdirahman Daud and Mohamed Farah) in San Diego, where they thought they were procuring fake passports facilitating their travel to join ISIS in Syria. The FBI used an undercover officer detailed from the San Diego police department to set up the sting. He went by the pseudonym “Miguel” and testified anonymously. “Miguel” testified to the arrests in San Diego. The prosecution played video of the sting as conducted at a rented warehouse in San Diego. An FBI SWAT team was on hand in a side room. It looked like overkill but it was dramatic stuff.
FBI Special Agent Harry Samit helped fill out the evidence on a number of miscellaneous points, the government then rested its case. The time was 11:30. Judge Davis excused the jury until 1:30.
Each of the defendants moved for judgment of acquittal. This was strictly pro forma. There is sufficient evidence to support a jury verdict of guilty on each of the counts charged. Judge Davis intends to let the jury decide the case.
Judge Davis denied the motions as expected. He then asked each defense lawyer to stand before him and advise his client on the record of the defendant’s absolute right to testify on his own behalf. Defendants Daud and Farah waived their right.
To my surprise, and I don’t think mine only, Guled Omar announced: “I would like to exercise my constitutional right to testify.” Judge Davis gave all the defendants until 1:30 to reconsider their respective decisions. At 1:30, the lawyers reiterated the previously stated decisions and Omar took the stand.
Omar’s testimony consumed the afternoon. On direct, Omar is an effective witness on his own behalf. He speaks directly to the jury. He is sympathetic. He has explanations. He is somewhat believable, or believable at least in part. He will complete his testimony on direct examination in short order this morning.
Here let me confine my summary to Omar’s family background. The Star Tribune’s Stephen Montemayor provides a fuller account in “Defendant takes stand, responds to claims in ISIL trial.”
Omar was born in a Kenyan refugee camp. He was roughly three years old when his family moved to the United States. His family had emigrated to Kenya as a result of the Somali civil war. His father was shot three times in the conflict and lost his left leg as a result of the injuries. His father is disabled, but his disability gave him preferential immigration treatment by the United States.
Don’t ask me; I can’t explain.
Omar’s father has disappeared from the United States. He has left Omar’s mother with a rather large family. Omar has nine sisters and four brothers. They live in housing subsidized with Section 8 voucher, but I’m sure thats the least of it.
Omar graduated from Minneapolis’s South High School in 2013. He enrolled in Minneapolis Community and Technical College and worked part time as a security officer. He is an observant Muslim; he implied that he prays five times a day. He led an Islamic study group including his codefendants and others involved in the present case. Despite his devotion to Islam, he liked to smoke marijuana and take Percocet.
Omar’s oldest brother has departed Minneapolis to join Al-Shabaab. Omar broke down on the stand as he described the burden and anxiety experienced by his mother in connection with his brother’s departure. He was, according to Omar, a perfect son.
The prosecution had put in evidence of Omar’s attempted travel to Kenya in 2012. The implication was that he sought to join his brother in Somalia. When the FBI sought him out to ask about his attempted travel, he gave them a couple of stories. His final answer was that he was going to Ethiopia to marry a woman he had never met before.
This evidence elicited one of Omar’s explanations. The woman he was going to marry is actually a cousin. The marriage was intended to allow for her immigration to the United States to help her family out. He didn’t own up to the explanation in 2012 because of the element of immigration fraud.
Observing the trial over the past three weeks, I have an impression of the defendants as young men who got themselves into a situation that was over their heads. Reflecting on the stray family background to which Omar testified yesterday, I think it is the United States that is in over its head. By contrast, the defendants appear to have an excellent grasp of their world.