Abdi Farah often warned his two oldest sons, Adnan and Mohamed, to stay away from terrorist propaganda.
“We used to have meetings in the house, and I told them, ‘I know you are teenagers. You have friends, and some of your friends go to Somalia for al-Shabab, ISIS, but this is not our religion. This is wrong,’” Abdi Farah said.
But the Farah brothers ignored their father’s advice.
“I would hear political arguments,” 20-year-old Adnan Farah said. “I would see it on the news as well.”
Adnan and Mohamed Farah also saw an al-Shabab recruiting video. The terrorist organization used videos to lure Minnesota teenagers to join al-Shabab between 2007 and 2012. Some of those Minnesota fighters are seen in current al-Shabab videos.
The al-Shabab video hooked the Farah brothers.
"In their videos...they are inspirational...when they talk about building the same trenches the prophet built," Farah said. "It really tugged at my heart."
When asked who he believed ISIS was, Adnan Farah said he “didn’t really look into their agenda at the time.”
“I just thought they were Freedom Fighters,” he said. “We went to Twitter and followed some of the fighters.”
Adnan Farah posted pictures of a top al-Qaeda radical cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, on his Facebook page, and he and his friends started watching recruiting videos on their phones.
“They start out by saying, ‘It’s OK; you are lost for identity.’ Then they help you find an identity, which is their identity,” Adnan Farah said. “They make you go through stages of bettering your worship, becoming a better Muslim, praying. Slowly but surely, you see yourself dedicated to Islam as a whole. You see yourself leaving school out, not caring about work.”
Adnan Farah was an 11th-grader at South High School in Minneapolis. He would usually wear jeans and a T-shirt, but in 2014 he started wearing Islamic clothing to school.
“I [saw] a big difference in me,” Adnan Farah said. “I wasn’t sociable no more. I stopped talking to my female friends. I became strange.”
Adnan and Mohamed Farah and their friends talked about joining ISIS while on the basketball court near Van Cleve Park as well as in the restaurant at Karmel Mall in Minneapolis.
“(The videos) go into the ultimate sacrifice of leaving your livelihood and going into darkness, me leaving my house and my family and going somewhere I know nothing about,” Adnan Farah said.
Adnan Farah says he and his friends believed they could save their parents from hell if they sacrificed their lives for God.
“We would argue about the burnings and beheadings and ask, ‘Is this Islamically right?’” Adnan Farah said. “It wasn’t Islamically right. I was so gone into their propaganda that I believed it was right.”
That belief turned into action. As soon as he turned 18, Adnan Farah applied for a passport.
His friend, Abdirizak Warsame, was the ringleader of the group. He met Adnan Farah at Karmel Mall to give him $200 for an expedited passport. Later, Warsame would testify against his friends.
Adnan Farah said his passport came to his house by accident, and his father found it in the mailbox.
When asked what he believed his son was going to do with the passport, Abdi Farah replied he “didn’t know.”
“He said, ‘I wasn’t planning to leave anywhere,’” Abdi Farah said.
“My dad and my mom sat down with me and they talked to me and they said, ‘What are you planning to do?’” Adnan Farah said. “They said, ‘Do you want to join a terrorist organization?’"
Adnan Farah says he lied to his parents and told them he wanted to go to China.
Abdi Farah took the passport away, saying he didn’t want his son to go anywhere.
“It was a nightmare,” Abdi Farah said. “I never thought they [were] going to join a terrorist organization.”
About that same time, in June of 2014, FBI agents were already tailing Adnan and Mohamed Farah. Court documents show agents saw the brothers and some of their friends on surveillance video shopping at Southdale Mall. They saw them buying Nike gear and the clothes they would wear on the plane to the Middle East.
READ: Court Ends on Dramatic Testimony of Attempt to Leave for Syria
Abdi Farah says FBI agents were often parked outside his home.
“My wife, she used to sometimes go out and say, ‘Thanks for watching my kids,’” Abdi Farah said.
No one knew the FBI agents were secretly listening in on the teenagers’ conversations, too. One of their most trusted friends, Abdirahman Bashir, betrayed them and helped the government. He became a paid informant for the FBI in December of 2014. He wore a wire and taped his friends inside mosques, at shopping malls and in their homes.
“He came home every other day, and I don’t know him,” Abdi Farah said. “I asked Adnan, ‘Who is this guy?’”
Bashir recorded conversations in March 2015 with Adnan Farah. In the conversations, Adnan tells Bashir, “There’s nothing for me in this world, bro.”
In court documents, Adnan Farah tells Bashir he is determined to go to Syria.
“We got to be smart, brother," Adnan Farah is quoted as saying to Bashir. "We can’t make dumb decisions like we always do. We got to be smart about the transportation.”
In the criminal complaint, Adnan Farah admits he was “very close” to going to Syria and that he was supposed to leave the same day one of the co-defendants left.
"We were all equally blindly following into this," Farah said. "I believed I was going to become (an) ISIL member and help with whatever was needed."
Part III Preview
Federal agents stopped Adnan and Mohamed Farah before they could use their passports to go to Syria. See how agents put the brakes on the plan and how the next 18 months transformed Adnan Farah.
Farrah Fazal and Jennie Lissarrague
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