Teen to Terrorist: Adnan Farah’s Road to Radicalization
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The serenity of a Sunday morning came crashing down inside Abdi Farah’s home on April 19, 2015.
“We got a lot of people knocking our door – hard,” Farah said.
Farah was upstairs sleeping, and his wife, Ayan, was downstairs in the kitchen making breakfast when more than two dozen federal agents came into the house.
“They took me downstairs and point a gun to me (sic),” Farah said. “I asked, ‘Why you point me (sic) a gun? What did I do? Am I a criminal?’ They say, ‘Where’s Mohamed? Where’s Mohamed?’ and they say, ‘Where’s Adnan? Where’s Adnan?’”
Adnan Farah was sleeping in his room when agents stormed in and screamed at him to give them his phone. They didn’t want him calling his friends.
“I seen (sic) my mom crying, begging, trying to hold on to me while the officers took me away, and I seen how much sorrow and hurtfulness in her eyes, and I broke down,” Adnan Farah said. "My parents are really hurt."
FBI agents arrested Adnan and Mohamed Farah along with four of their friends on suspicion of plotting and planning to join ISIS. The arrests were the government’s largest crackdown on ISIS recruiting and made international news.
In the days after his arrest, Adnan Farah found himself at Sherburne County Jail.
“I remember the first call to my parents,” Adnan Farah said. “I never had been arrested in my life. They told me, ‘God works in mysterious ways.’ I was truly scared.”
Adnan Farah says the sixteen months he’s spent behind bars has changed him.
“I’ve missed birthdays, family vacations, just talking to my siblings,” he said. “I’ve been reading a lot about different influential people – Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela.”
During his time in jail, Farah says he began to see ISIS terrorists for who they really are.
"I think ISIL is totally wrong," said Farah. "They’ve gone astray from the way of Islam.”
The degree of his radicalization hit home for Adnan Farah as he was watching the coverage of the Orlando nightclub shootings. The shooter pledged allegiance to ISIS before he gunned down dozens of people.
“I was crying because innocent people were killed, and I said, ‘That could have been me,’” Adnan Farah said. “I could have been misled and been told to kill innocent people. ISIL didn’t know who these people were.”
Adnan Farah is in jail because his friend, Abdirahman Bashir, betrayed him and his friends by becoming a government informant. Farah, however, sees Bashir as someone who saved his life.
“I could have been dead, you know,” Farah said. “I could have never seen my family again. I could have been washed up in some Syrian river, or I would have been buried somewhere without my name on it.”
Adnan Farah’s attorney, Kenneth Udoibok, is from Africa and understands the culture. Udoibok said the government had a strong case against his his client and the other codefendants.
The government has secret recordings of Adnan Farah and his friends planning their trip to Syria to fight for ISIS. Agents also know Adnan Farah lied about getting his passport.
“I had to persuade him to see the risks that he will be taking if he went to trial and was convicted,” Udoibok said.
Adnan Farah’s parents were adamant about going to trial, and Adnan was caught in the middle – until a window opened.
Although the government is not in the business of offering plea deals to terrorists, they offered Adnan Farah one. Udoibok said the prosecutors realized Adnan Farah was the least culpable of all the defendants.
The offer was good for only a few hours. Adnan Farah took it.
On April 14, 2016, almost a year to the day after he was arrested, Adnan Farah pleaded guilty. He didn’t tell his parents about it until after he signed the deal.
“I was wrong," Farah said. "(Pleading guilty) was the right thing to do, even though my parents believed I could prove my innocence. I believe that’s how I get on with my life, first to accept I was wrong.”
When asked if he hates the United States, Adnan Farah replied that America is his home.
“This is where my parents got the opportunity to get away from war,” Adnan Farah said. “This is all I know. How can I hate the US? This is my home.”
But it will likely be years before Adnan Farah will ever see the home he walked away from in handcuffs on that serene Sunday morning 18 months ago.
Part IV Preview
Adnan Farah was the perfect target for ISIS. He is an American, but he didn’t feel he belonged in his American world or his Somali world. ISIS gave him an identity.
See how ISIS is specifically targeting Minnesota to recruit its foot soldiers and why Adnan Farah says you should be worried about ISIS’ reach in Minnesota.