The St. Louis Park family had just started a two-month vacation with relatives in Morocco in 2015 when they noticed that their 18-year-old son was on his cellphone even more than usual.
He told them it was just a distraction while adjusting to the Casablanca area, a place he found more hectic than his suburban hometown.
But within days, Abdelhamid Al-Madioum had disappeared.
His parents now know that the young man had secretly booked a flight to Istanbul, on his way to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
His case, laid out in newly unsealed court filings, is the first new disclosure of a young Minnesotan attempting the terrorism pilgrimage since the high-profile prosecution of nine Twin Cities men drew national attention last year.
And while that case seemed to close a chapter on one of the FBI’s biggest terror recruitment probes, the new documents underscore what federal authorities have been quietly saying for months: Their investigation of terrorist recruiting in Minnesota is far from finished.
In addition to Al-Madioum’s case, the Star Tribune has identified at least five other open investigations alleging ISIS support in Minnesota, with cases from 2015 to as recently as late last year.
Officials from the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Minneapolis would not comment on Al-Madioum’s case. But search warrant affidavits reviewed by the Star Tribune outline an intricate plan by the young man, including months of careful preparation involving money transfers and border crossings.
Searching his bedroom in St. Louis Park, FBI agents found handwritten notes with a sketch of the symbol that adorns the ISIS flag, next to the word “allegiance” written in Arabic.
In another, the young man wrote: “If we leave the U.S. with no one stopping us, we have succeeded.”
Al-Madioum, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was to spend two months with his family visiting relatives in Morocco in June 2015. His parents later told investigators that he skipped dinner on July 7 and said he wasn’t feeling well, but still prayed and visited with family until going to bed about 3 a.m.
The next day, finding him gone, relatives scoured local hospitals and police stations, according to the FBI’s search warrant application. Their home’s front-door key was missing, as were Al-Madioum’s cellphone and passport. His other possessions had been left behind.
Soon, Moroccan officials told the family that Al-Madioum had booked a flight to Turkey that left Casablanca hours after they last saw him. In many cases, according to an agent’s sworn affidavit, aspiring ISIS militants try to cross into Syria by first traveling to Istanbul.
After several failed attempts to reach their son by text and social media, the family went to the U.S. Consulate to ask for the FBI’s help, according to the search warrant. On Aug. 21, they returned home without him.
Meanwhile, the family allowed the FBI to search its home in St. Louis Park. Agents retrieved three laptops and two hard drives, along with pages of handwritten notes in Al-Madioum’s bedroom.
The notes showed that Al-Madioum had created a “flow chart” of how he planned to route money through alternative bank accounts to make sure he had access to funds “should his travel plans become obstructed.” He listed “Ali’s account,” PayPal, MoneyGram and “paying someone on the spot” among his options, according to the FBI’s search warrant application.
He also wrote down questions like the maximum withdrawal limit for his check card and how to prove his identity over the phone. The FBI said Al-Madioum also appeared to write out a “rehearsed backstop story” should border officials question him as he tried to enter Turkey.
Al-Madioum’s family has since moved out of St. Louis Park. A woman and man who answered the phone at a new Twin Cities-area address listed for the family declined to comment for this story.
The FBI’s investigation into the case is still open, and a spokesman declined to comment on the case.
Another well-vetted Muslim refugee?