Five Twin Cities men accused of trying to join terrorist fighters in Syria pleaded not guilty Monday to more serious charges of conspiring to commit murder overseas, WCCO reports.
The new charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The men – Hamza Ahmed, Adnan Farah, Guled Omar, Abdirahman Daud and Mohamed Farah – were charged originally with conspiring to aid a terrorist group. But a "superseding indictment" was filed two weeks ago, bringing forward the more serious charges.
That indictment contains new details about their alleged plot to join the Islamic State – describing the men communicating with Islamic State contacts, sharing the phone numbers of contacts in Turkey, and in some cases playing paintball to prepare for combat.
Their trial was scheduled to begin in February, but it's been pushed back to May to give their attorneys more time to prepare, according to MPR News.
Three other men have pleaded guilty this year to conspiring to aid the terrorist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL).
MPR News reports that prosecutors have offered a plea deal to one of the men, Adnan Farah, but he has refused to accept it.
Attorneys for the men say the government's case is weak, since it relies heavily on the testimony of an informant they say is untruthful.
Terrorist recruitment in Minnesota
In announcing indictments against six of the defendants in April, U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Andrew Luger said Minnesota has a "terror recruiting problem."
In the last decade or so, at least 22 young Somali men left Minnesota to join the terror group al-Shabab in Somali, reports note.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minneapolis, spoke with the Star Tribune earlier this year about curbing terror recruitment efforts in Minnesota, saying it’s worrisome that despite local and national efforts, Somali-Americans are still heading overseas to fight someone they don’t know.
He said officials will have to be more resourceful to reach youths who are turning to terrorism, to communicate the message that instead of terrorism, things can be more effectively changed by active citizenship.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken told the paper the Justice Department is making additional funds available to assist in stopping terrorist recruitment in the Twin Cities.