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United States v. Mohamed Tahlil Mohamed

United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York

April 1, 2020, Decided; April 1, 2020, Filed

18-cr-603 (ARR)



ROSS, United States District Judge:

Mohamed Tahlil Mohamed and Abdi Yusuf Hassan are charged with (1) conspiracy to provide material support for acts of terrorism, (2) provision and attempted provision of material support for acts of terrorism, (3) hostage-taking conspiracy, (4) hostage taking, (5) threatening a U.S. national with a weapon of mass destruction, (6) unlawful use of firearms, and (7) firearms conspiracy. Both defendants have moved to have witnesses located in Somalia testify at trial via live closed-circuit television ("CCTV"), [*2]  or in the alternative, to take pretrial depositions pursuant to Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. This is a close case, but I conclude that Rule 15 depositions may be appropriate because some of the anticipated testimony is material and the witnesses are unavailable. However, I reserve judgment pending a conference with the parties regarding the mechanics of conducting remote depositions by videoconference.


Mohamed and Hassan are charged as part of a conspiracy by a group of Somali pirates to hold John Doe hostage in Somalia over a two-year period. The defendants do not deny all involvement with the John Doe hostage situation. See, e.g., Mohamed Tahlil Mohamed's Mem. of L. in Supp. of his Mot. for Trial Test. via Live Videoconference or Pretrial Deps. ("Mohamed Br.") 1, ECF No. 48-4; Mem. of L. in Supp. of Def. Abdi Yusuf Hassan's Mot. to Elicit Test. via CCTV or to Conduct R. 15 Deps. Prior to Trial ("Hassan Br.") 6, ECF No. 50. Instead, they offer two defenses: (1) they lacked the required mens rea for hostage-taking because they acted intending to aid Doe and secure his release; and (2) the defendants did not willfully participate in any conspiracy with the alleged co-conspirators because they were actually [*3]  working against the pirates' goals. See Mohamed Br. 1; Hassan Br. 14-15.

All of the conduct charged in this case took place in Galkayo, Somalia. This circumstance has posed obvious logistical challenges for defendants' investigations, but each defendant has located witnesses whose testimony he seeks to introduce into evidence. See Hassan Br. 4-6. Mohamed's witnesses are (1) Said Osman Warsame, a non-governmental organization employee, (2) Dahir Osman Hirsi, an elder in Mohamed's subclan; and (3) Sharif Ali Harbi, a Galkayo police commander. Mohamed Br. 2-4. Hassan's witnesses are two Somali law enforcement officers, (1) Mohammad Nur Ali and (2) Colonel Ali Nur Sahal, as well as (3) Abdi Hassan Awale, the president of the Galmudug state in Somalia. Hassan Br. 6-8.

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2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58113 *



Prior History: United States v. Hassan, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 190182 (E.D.N.Y., Nov. 1, 2019)


depositions, witnesses, conspiracy, pirates, hostage taking, unavailable, travel, anticipated testimony, proffered, inadmissible, defendants', Embassy, hostage, witness testimony, mens rea, conducting, hearsay, highly relevant, circumstances, assertions, willfully, parties, necessary to prevent, co-conspirators, observations, cumulative, factors