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Minnesota man admits he planned to join ISIS

Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, 20, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group

Published: Updated:

A Minnesota man admitted Thursday that he planned to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group (ISIS), saying he believed joining the violent terrorist organization would help his fellow Muslims.

Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, 20, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group. He admitted that he and eight other men met 10 to 15 times in local mosques, parks and restaurants to talk about routes to Syria and how to finance their trip.

He faces up to 15 years in prison at sentencing, which hasn’t been scheduled.

Abdurahman is the third Minnesota man to plead guilty in connection with planning travel to Syria. Five others face a February trial.

Authorities have described the men from Minnesota’s Somali community as friends who recruited and inspired each other. Prosecutors say the men were advised from overseas by Abdi Nur, another Minnesota man who went to Syria in May 2014.

One man who was initially part of the conspiracy became a government informant earlier this year, leading some family members to claim their loved ones were entrapped. Under questioning from a prosecutor and U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, Abdurahman said the idea for traveling was in his head before the informant “came along.”

“I wasn’t entrapped,” he said.

The Minneapolis area is home to the largest concentration of Somali immigrants in the U.S., and the community has been a target for terror recruiters: more than 22 men have left the state since 2007 to join al-Shabab in Somalia, and roughly a dozen people have left to join jihadist groups in Syria.

Abdurahman said Thursday that he began thinking about going to Syria in the spring of 2014 after he saw how the Syrian people were suffering at the hands of the Bashar Assad regime. Abdurahman said he saw videos of elderly parents and kids pleading for help from Muslims, and felt he had an obligation because “it is a worse sin to not listen to their cries,” he said.

He also said he watched English-language jihadist videos on YouTube, Twitter and other social media outlets, and wanted to join ISIS even though he knew it carried out beheadings and burned prisoners.

He provided a picture for a passport to one group member, who was actually the FBI informant, and took it back shortly before his arrest because “I thought I was going to get caught,” he said.

Ayan Abdurahman said after her son’s hearing that she was “very sad” and that he and others like him are just children.

“He’s very young,” she said, speaking in broken English. “... I asking the American government they have to treat these as children. They make mistake.”