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Minnesota man was 'soldier' in ISIS suicide unit, feds say

By PAUL WALSH | The Star Tribune | Published: September 17, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS (Tribune News Service) — A St. Louis Park man who abandoned his family while vacationing in Morocco has been charged by federal authorities five years later with joining an ISIS battalion trained to carry out suicide attacks in Europe.

Abdelhamid Al-Madioum, 23, was indicted in U.S. District Court on a charge of providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Al-Madioum, who lost much of one arm from an apparent air assault in Iraq, was in court in Minneapolis on Wednesday after his overseas capture by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the major fighting force against ISIS, who then handed him over to the FBI.

In June 2015 Al-Madioum and his family traveled to see relatives in Casablanca, Morocco when at age 18 he left without his parents’ knowledge for Istanbul, Turkey, and then on to Iraq and Syria, according to the recently unsealed criminal complaint.

The native Moroccan and naturalized U.S. citizen soon joined ISIS and remained among its forces until his capture in March 2019, federal prosecutors allege.

Al-Madioum’s attorney Manny Atwal said he was not ready to comment on the charge against his client because “I need time to meet with my client, his family and receive and review [evidence] from the government.” Al-Madioum remains in custody ahead of a Tuesday hearing.

Al-Madioum studied engineering at Normandale Community College in Bloomington from June 2014 to May 2015. According to a federal search warrant, he also worked for the college’s IT department.

Interviews with former classmates of Al-Madioum following a 2017 Star Tribune report on his disappearance painted a picture of an easygoing man who liked cracking jokes and had an affinity for marijuana. Former friends say he grew more devout in his Muslim faith and withdrew from his former friend group not long after his family caught him with marijuana.

According to the complaint:

Family members said that while in Casablanca on July 7, 2015, Al-Madioum claimed to not feel well and skipped dinner. He later prayed and socialized with family until 3 a.m., then went to bed.

When family awoke the next day, Al-Madioum was gone. So was his passport and cellphone. Law enforcement in Morocco told the family Al-Madioum boarded a commercial flight that morning to Istanbul, a common pathway to Syria for ISIS recruits.

FBI agents searched the family’s home in St. Louis Park about a month later and found notes he wrote expressing his intent to join ISIS. They included a sketch of a symbol on the ISIS flag. Next to it Al-Madioum wrote the Arabic word for “allegiance.”

In late August of that year, Al-Madioum called his family and said he was working in a hospital in ISIS-controlled Mosul, Iraq, treating the injured.

In March 2017, Al-Madioum informed his family he moved to Raqqa, Iraq, and had a child with a woman he married after she lost her husband fighting for ISIS. It is “common for ISIS members to marry women whose husbands have died while fighting for ISIS,” the indictment read.

U.S. military in Mosul located payroll and biographical documents indicating that Al-Madioum was in ISIS.

In the fall of 2016, Al-Madioum was assigned as a soldier in a battalion whose duties included “preparing foreign fighters to conduct suicide attacks in European countries,” the criminal read. The unit’s founder was the mastermind behind terror attack in Paris in 2015 and in Belgium in 2016.

But in an interview with CBS News last year in Syria after his arrest, Al-Madioum said he never fought for ISIS.

By March 2019, ISIS territory had withered under SDF assaults to a small village on the Syria-Iraq border. Al-Madioum and others surrendered to the SDF and moved to a Syrian prison. He said two children with him were his and his wife had been killed in Syria.

FBI agents met with Al-Madioum four months later. He told them he lost his right arm above the elbow during an airstrike in Mosul and suffered leg injuries as well.

He later admitted to the FBI that he first contacted ISIS on Twitter saying “he wanted to fight Muslim oppression by the Syrian regime and to attend medical school.”

A Twitter account promoting ISIS called “Birds of Paradise” provided Al-Madioum instruction on how to travel to Syria and join the terror group.

Once in Istanbul, Al-Madioum told the FBI, he was among about 30 people who were trucked to the Turkey-Syria border, then escorted into Syria on foot. Not long after, he was taken to Mosul, where he was trained in first aid and assigned to a hospital.

After the injury to his arm and legs from the airstrike, he was unable to work. He stayed in Mosul under surrendering to the SDF 18 months later.

In his interview with CBS, Al-Madioum claimed that FBI interrogators warned that he could face 15 years in prison if brought back to the country he once called home.

“Fifteen years is a very long time for mistakes you made coming to Syria,” Al-Madioum told the network, adding he believed should be forgiven.

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