MINNEAPOLIS – Abdifatah Ahmed struggled for years to make ends meet.
After losing his $15-an-hour job fueling airliners in Minneapolis, the Somali-American father of nine survived on low-wage jobs and public assistance. He complained about working hard, but never having enough money. His circumstances worsened when he was ordered to pay more than $700 a month to support three of his children — including one less than a year old.
Months later, he surfaced in Syria, where he went to fight for the Islamic State.
"I think since he lost his job, he was maybe never normal after that," sister Muna Ahmed told the AP last fall.
"It's unbelievable," his friend, Farhan Hussein, said recently. "Where did this disease come from?"
Hussein said his friend seemed confused about life, and sometimes felt stressed out by the women with whom he had children: Minnesota court papers show at times he was paying child support to two ex-wives for five of his kids, as well as support for a sixth whose mother is not identified. He wasn't the type to go to mosque or pray every day — instead, he went clubbing and even drank alcohol, Hussein said.
When he felt troubled, Ahmed might turn to his religion for a week or so at a time. But once the blues passed, he would be back to his old self — flirting with women, dressing sharply, listening to rap music, shooting hoops and lifting weights at a local gym, Hussein said.
He dipped sporadically into political discussions, speaking about the Palestinians, the civil war in Libya and conditions in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia where many Somalis live. But the continued atrocities against Syrian civilians committed by the Assad regime apparently made a deeper impression.
On Dec. 3, 2013, a post on his Facebook account showed pictures of mutilated kids: "Look what is happening in syria. Where is the UN when u need them. This is worse than libya you get it?"
A month later, it appears, Ahmed was in Syria himself.
"A muslim has to stand up for was right. ... I give up this worldly life for allah and to save the ummah (community of believers) if that makes terrorist am happy with it," he wrote in a Jan. 3, 2014 post.
Another post that same day contains a photo of him holding a rifle in one hand, and a book that may be the Quran in the other.
Alarmed, Hussein messaged Ahmed, urging him to come home. After ignoring his friend for months, Ahmed replied that "we've got to fight" for the caliphate.
Ahmed's last Facebook posts, including one that says "having fun in jihad," are dated last July 25.
The next month, a member of Ahmed's family received a picture that appeared to show him dead, with a gunshot wound to the head. The State Department is working to verify reports of Ahmed's death, but Hussein identified the person in the photo as his friend, who would have been 34 according to court records.
Family and friends interviewed by the AP said they don't know what motivated Ahmed to go to Syria. Hussein said he may have been trying to escape financial troubles and the stress of being pulled in different directions by the women in his life.
"That's the only thing I could think of that would (mess) his life up, and make him lose his hope," Hussein said.
He added: "He was looking for paradise."