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Minnesota Would-Be Jihadis Get Up to 35 Years in Prison

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Judge Michael Davis of Minnesota sentenced nine young men who were members of an Islamic State cell in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Pauls. Davis hired a deradicalization expert from Germany, Daniel Koehler, to assess the men before he handed down his sentences. His reports were taken into consideration when determining the sentences.

Although he considered using mandatory deradicalization programs as part of his sentences, Judge Davis instead gave all of those sentenced prison time, with terms ranging from 21 months to 35 years.

He sentenced the men in three batches, depending on their level of cooperation with the authorities.

The first set of three men was sentenced on Monday. All three pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization.

Abdullahi Mohamed Yusuf, 20, was sentenced to the 21 months imprisonment which he has already served while awaiting trial. He will now go to a halfway house.

Abdirizak Warsame, 21, who expressed remorse in an exclusive interview with 60 Minutes received two and a half years imprisonment.

Zacharia Abdurahman, 21, was handed down a sentence of 10 years, on the grounds that unlike the other two, he refused to cooperate with the government and testify against his co-conspirators.

When asked why he refused to do so he told the judge, “As a man, I made a decision not to do that to my former friends. Your honor, I’m a man of principle. … Our religion teaches you not to harm another brother.”

The second group of three ISIS supporters was sentenced on Tuesday. All three pleaded guilty, but also refused to cooperate with government prosecutors. They, too, received harsher sentences.

Hamza Ahmed, 21, received a sentence of 15 years for conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization and for financial-aid fraud to finance his trip to Syria.

“I refuse for this to be my legacy, I will come back, make a positive [difference] for my community, for people around me and I will be remembered,” he told the court, stressing that he was making an effort to deradicalize himself. “I want you to understand I am not completely changed,” Ahmed, 21, told Davis. “I’m in the process, but nobody changes overnight. I’m trying every day. I want to reach that point.”

Hanad Musse, 21, was sentenced to ten years. He had an opportunity to cooperate but lied to deradicalization expert Koehler instead and tried to protect his co-conspirators. Although federal prosecutors asked for a 15 year sentence, Judge Davis said setting the maximum sentence despite a guilty plea would send the wrong message.

Adnan Farah, 20, had applied for an expedited passport to leave the U.S., but his father confiscated it before he was able to leave the country when the passport arrived in the mail. Judge Davis told the father, who was present in the court, his action saved his son’s life.

Farah was sentenced to ten years.

The final group of three ISIS terrorists pleaded not guilty and their cases went to trial. They were not referred to Koehler and received the heaviest sentences.

Abdirahman Daud and Mohamed Farah, 22, received sentences of 30 years imprisonment each. Despite an emotional plea from  Daud he had reformed, which Davis seemed to accept, Davis said his first priority was to protect American citizens and that doing so required handing down lengthy sentences.

The heaviest sentence was reserved for the ringleader of the cell, Guled Omar, 22, who was sentenced to 35 years.

Omar attempted to persuade the court he had reformed in a tearful statement. Prosecuting attorney Winter countered, saying, “Make no mistake, this defendant is extraordinarily dangerous.  Only when backed into a corner, does he attempt to offer false contrition. You can’t fix manipulative. You can’t fix deceitful. And you can’t fix Guled Omar.”

Judge Davis agreed, saying to Omar, “Everything you have said here, I don’t believe.”

Judge Davis made a point to say that felons were not a reflection of the Somali-Muslim community of Minnesota.

“I will fight anyone who says Islam is a dirty religion or one of violence. It is not,” Davis said. “I’ve been stern and harsh in my sentencing for good reason, which is to incapacitate this cell.”

“I have traveled the world trying to figure out what to do with this jihadist behavior,” he added. “There’s nothing in our criminal justice system that can even come close to try to rehabilitate someone who has extreme jihadist ideology … Terrorists and their supporters should be incapacitated for a long period of time.”

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org