1 lawyer removed from terror case after imam scrutiny

Published 2:50 pm Saturday, April 2, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS — An attorney for one of five Minnesota men facing trial on charges that they conspired to support the Islamic State group was removed from the case Friday after prosecutors raised questions about a member of his trial team — an imam who allegedly taught another defendant about how to pray during jihad.

Patrick Nwaneri was one of two attorneys for Mohamed Abdihamid Farah until U.S. District Judge Michael Davis granted his request to be removed from the case. According to prosecutors, a member of Nwaneri’s staff, Imam Hassan Mohamud, taught a defendant who pleaded guilty earlier about the proper way to pray on the battlefield. Prosecutors said those alleged statements, coming from a member of the defense team, would have unfairly prejudiced the jury that will consider the case against Farah and his co-defendants. The trial is scheduled to begin May 9.

Nwaneri told Davis at a hearing that his presence on Farah’s defense team had become a distraction and that letting him withdraw would allow the remaining lawyers on the case to “concentrate on the real issues.”

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Davis agreed, but only after questioning Farah extensively about whether he had freely and knowingly consented, and questioning his remaining attorney, Murad Mohammad, about his ability to provide a proper defense given that he was about to lose most of his team a month before trial.

“That’s a big loss,” Davis pointed out. The judge said his staff would contact the federal defender’s office about getting Mohammad some help.

Prosecutors raised concerns about the imam in filings last Friday and Monday, saying a recording of a conversation last April included a co-conspirator making reference to learning about prayer during jihad from Mohamud, who is also known in the local Somali Muslim community as Sheikh Hassan Jami. They asked Davis to determine whether the imam’s presence on the defense team created an actual or potential conflict of interest.