Teen to Terrorist: A Teen from Two Worlds

How does a kid from the south side of Minneapolis end up in the middle of the biggest terror recruiting case in United States history?

Twenty-year-old Adnan Farah explained to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS his side of the story in a series of phone calls from an undisclosed county jail in Minnesota. Farah will be sentenced in mid-November on a charge related to his attempt to join ISIS.


"The world deserves to know," Farah said when asked about his motivation for giving 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the exclusive interview. "It's the right thing to do."

See extensive coverage of our Teen to Terrorist series here.

Long before his plea, Farah says an ordinary American kid is all he ever wanted to be. 

“I’m a kid from the south side of Minneapolis,” Farah said. “Grew up playing basketball, running after girls."

But compared to most kids his age, Farah's life was anything but ordinary.

“My parents grew up in Somalia, and they have that identity, and I’m growing up here, and we can’t share that identity, so there’s always that difference in understanding,” Farah said.

Farah grew up in the iconic Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, and hundreds of Somali immigrants were his neighbors. 

Farah says his parents worked hard to support him and his six siblings. His father left medical school and his mother saw unspeakable acts of suffering and rape before they both escaped the civil war in Somalia. They came to the Twin Cities as refugees 20 years ago.

READ: Minnesota Mother Shocked that 2 Sons Face Terror Charges

“My mom always tells me there’s no country like the land that gave her opportunity,” Farah said. “My parents are forever in debt to America.”

Farah said he grew up with American patriotism flowing in his home, surrounded by his Somali culture.

“My mom is a chef, so I see how much time and love she puts into making food, and I really enjoyed making food with her,” Farah said.

But the happy days of childhood innocence wouldn’t carry into his teenage years.

“High school is where the difficulty came about because I was kind of lost for identity,” Farah said. “I would go to school and I would see how the kids dressed and how they acted, and I tried to imitate them and fit in.”

The hip hop he loved to listen to wasn’t the music he could play at home.

“I always put a smile on, but internally I was going through a lot,” Farah said.  "It was a confusing part of my life. I just didn't know I could balance so many different cultures at once."

Farah was torn: his American world clashed with his Somali world.

"It's not easy being Somail-African-American-Muslim in America," Farah said.

Belonging became more and more difficult for Farah.

“I would go to school, and you would hear remarks like, ‘This Somali kid this’ or ‘This Somali kid that,’ and I would take...offense,” Farah said.

Farah says the discrimination alienated him, and he felt misunderstood.

"I didn't know who I was, what I wanted," Farah said. "It was a vulnerable point of my life."

Then, he began hearing coffeehouse conversations and political talk around town about a group of people he believed were Freedom Fighters.

READ: Terrorist Recruitment Video Features Minnesota Men, Donald Trump

Farah found ISIS recruiting videos on Twitter and Facebook that targeted teenagers like himself who were struggling with belonging. He watched a film about a radical Islamic cleric and ISIS supporter, and he began talking to other Somali boys.

"I was lost for identity," Farah said. "I was at a vulnerable state at the time, so I saw this ISIL message and it said 'You're Muslim, and you belong to us.'"

They were all drawn to a so-called “brotherhood” that promised them belonging and purpose with a mission. 

Farah said the conversations he had with other friends focused on “us looking at parents struggling with this life and us being American citizens but always being second-class citizens … just looking at our life and saying, ‘What do we want to do with our lives?’”

“’Our parents sacrificed everything for us. Why don’t we pay them back with our sacrifice?’ At the time, that’s what we were thinking,” Farah said.

READ: Portions of ISIS Propaganda Videos Shown in Court

One year after first having those thoughts,  Farah awakened to find the force of the federal government in his bedroom.

In that second, he went from teen to terrorist.

Part II Preview

Twenty-year-old Adnan Farah got an expedited passport to go to Syria, and court records show tickets to Syria were somehow sent to him, possibly by ISIS recruiters in Syria. See how close Farah was to boarding a flight and going to Syria and how the FBI arrested him on that April day.


Farrah Fazal and Jennie Lissarrague

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