ISIS in the Twin Cities, &c.

I found attending the trial of the three ISIS wannabes of the ten charged last year to be an incredibly rich experience. I’m still chewing it over. I take another look at the trial and at the national media’s pitiful coverage of it at City Journal in “ISIS in the Twin Cities.” I also touch on the related immigration issue implicit in the case. In light of the massacre in Istanbul, the piece is timely in its own way. I’m grateful to editors Brian Anderson and Paul Beston at City Journal for letting me take up the subject with their readers. Please check it out and take a look around the newly redesigned City Journal site.

In the spirit–and copying the format–of Jay Nordlinger’s blowouts in his Impromptus columns at National Review, I want to add these thoughts on the trial and note a few loose ends.

• I started my research on the case in earnest when I attended a presentation by FBI Minneapolis Division Chief Counsel/Media Coordinator Kyle Loven. Loven spoke to the National Security Society in a Minneapolis suburb in early November 2015. Loven decried the evolution of encrypted communication applications that put terrorist networks beyond the ability of the fBI to monitor. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Loven was referring in part to the case of the Minnesota 10. They communicated among themselves and with their friends who had joined ISIS in Syria through the use of widely available secure applications.

• I refer to the case of the Minnesota 10. By the time of trial, six of the 10 had pleaded guilty. One had made it to Syria and is presumably dead. The FBI investigation of the case lasted more than a year and spanned the United States “from California to the New York island” (that’s Woody Guthrie in “This Land Is Your Land”).

• The FBI has been criticized for letting Omar Mateen fall out of its sight in Orlando. The FBI’s performance in this case was outstanding. Numerous FBI agents testified at trial. They were uniformly impressive. Next to the covert recordings of defendants that I have written about in my pieces on the trial, the FBI agents constituted the prosecution’s most formidable asset.

• In late 2014 or early 2015, after he had been called to testify to the grand jury investigating the case by Assistant United States Attorney Andrew Winter, co-conspirator Abdirahman Bashir agreed to become an informant. Bashir was part of the group seeking to leave Minnesota to join ISIS but he has never been charged. His work undercover was critical to the successful prosecution of the case.

• Among other things, Bashir worked for a time at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport deicing planes. MSP authorities have so far failed to respond to my inquiry regarding the dates of his employment at the airport. I find the local media’s failure to follow up on this point mind-boggling. Bashir worked on the tarmac at the airport with co-conspirator Abdirizak Warsame. The first question Bashir asked the FBI when he agreed to cooperate with law enforcement: “Can you help me get my job at the airport back?”

• The federal courthouse in downtown Minneapolis is a twenty-first century fortress. The courtroom was packed every day with the defendants’ families and supporters, mostly dressed in their native Somali garb. We have imported the members of an alien and hostile Third World culture and plopped them down in the heart of the Twin Cities. It is weird.

• As I say in the City Journal piece, the Minnesota 10 and their friends strike me as ordinary Somali young men. There is nothing special about them. So far as I could tell, all it took to recruit them to the ISIS cause was a diet of ISIS videos.

• Somali immigrants are high volume consumers of welfare benefits–see Kelly Riddell’s Washington Times article on this point–and a huge concern to law enforcement. Is it possible that they have made a net contribution to Minnesota or the United States? That’s one question you won’t see asked any time soon in the Star Tribune.

• Another question that we can’t answer: what is the Somali population in Minnesota? The Census Bureau does not track Somalis per se. The official estimate of the Somali population is a joke. My guess is that it numbers at least 100,000 and that they would make up Minnesota’s third largest city, after Minneapolis and St. Paul, if located in one place.

• I write about the national media’s (non)coverage of the trial in the City Journal piece. Reporters from the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times dropped into town and wrote pieces mostly focused on the reaction of the Somali community to the case. They have turned the community reaction piece into an excruciating cliché. They never think to ask those of us who have welcomed and supported Somali immigrants over the past 25 years how we feel about the case.

• The local media did a good job covering the case. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have understood the trial from their coverage. One of the three defendants (Guled Omar) testified at trial, I believe against the advice of his attorney. He made a decent impression on direct examination, but my judgment is that he fell apart on the mediocre cross examination that followed. It ended with him saying something like, “I’m confused in my head.” Omar had an explanation for everything except some of the things he said on the covert recordings. They “confused” him. I tried to add an element of judgment based on my professional experience to coverage of the case, and I think something like that is necessary to understand what was happening.

• The Minnesota 10 et al. wanted to live under the caliphate declared by ISIS and to wage jihad in Syria. They also wanted to help ISIS bring the jihad back to the United States. The FBI thus deserves our gratitude for its work in shutting down this cell of wannabes.

• The evidence at trial was chilling, but in one respect the case was refreshing. It lacked the mind-numbing euphemisms imposed by the Obama administration on such matters. At trial there was no doubt about what was at issue: Islam, jihad, “martyrdom” and murder.

In addition to my daily coverage of the trial on Power Line, I have previously written about the case in three articles for the Weekly Standard–here (December 7, 2015), here (March 21) and here (June 20)–and in one Star Tribune column (June 14). If you have read this far, thank you for joining me to revisit the trial one more time. However, I need to add this reservation. I continue to think about what I saw and am afraid I may have more to say next week!