MINNEAPOLIS (AP/WCCO) — A Minneapolis man who was stopped at a New York City airport in November as he and three others were allegedly attempting to travel to Syria was indicted Thursday on charges associated with supporting the Islamic State group.
Hamza Ahmed, 19, was arrested earlier this month and charged with lying to the FBI during a terrorism investigation. Thursday's indictment includes that charge, and also charges Ahmed with one count of conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State group and one count of attempting to provide material support.
Ahmed remains in custody after a magistrate judge said last week that he had posted threatening comments on Twitter, including comments about becoming a martyr.
Ahmed's attorney did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the new charges.
"Since 2007, dozens of people from the Twin Cities have traveled or attempted to travel overseas in support of terror," U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said in a statement. "While my office will continue to prosecute those who attempt to provide material support to ISIL or any other terrorist organization, we remain committed to working with dedicated community members to bring this cycle to an end."
Omar Jamal, chief executive of American Friends of Somalia, said Ahmed's parents were not speaking to the media Thursday, but they are worried about the new charges.
"They are still in a sense of disbelief of what happened and what is going on right now," Jamal said. "They put their faith in the judicial system to sort things out."
According to court documents, Ahmed and three others took a bus from Minnesota to New York City in November and planned to travel overseas, but they were stopped. In an interview with the FBI, Ahmed allegedly denied knowing one of his companions and said he was traveling alone on a vacation to Spain. The indictment says Ahmed actually knew the man, and was traveling with him and others to Syria.
Little information has been revealed about Ahmed's alleged companions, who have not been charged. An FBI affidavit says they are all between the ages of 19 and 20 and live in the Twin Cities.
Authorities say a handful of Minnesota residents have traveled to Syria to fight with militants within the last year. At least one Minnesotan has died while fighting for the Islamic State. Since 2007, more than 22 young Somali men have also traveled from Minnesota to Somalia to join the terrorist group al-Shabab.
The charges against Ahmed have those in the Twin Cities' Somali community concerned that young people are still vulnerable to propaganda and radicalization.
"The community, in general, we are deeply concerned about this situation," Jamal said. "The kids being snatched off streets and sent overseas to fight a war they have nothing to do with."
He believes something has to be done quickly or more young people might be led down the wrong path.
"What are we going to do with these kids?" he said. "They are being misled and not informed, they don't know what they are signing up for, some of them when they get there, they get confused they run back here and they end up in prison, they either going to die over there or spend part of their life in prison here, so is there any other alternative?"
On the day the indictment against Ahmed came down, a multi-day summit in Washington D.C. on strategies to curb terror recruiting had ended. President Barack Obama spoke about how ISIS, although claiming to be Islamic, does not represent Islam. He also made the case that although Muslims have had trouble assimilating in European countries, immigrants in America, including Muslims, have historically had a much warmer welcome.
During the summit, a pilot program to counter terror recruiting was praised for its effectiveness in Los Angeles, Boston and the Twin Cities. The program seeks to engage the community with local law enforcement, address the root causes of radicalization, which are often traced to the need for jobs and mentors, and to get more community members involved in spotting the warning signs of radicalization.
As for Ahmed, he will remain in custody until his detention hearing on Monday.
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