Three Minnesota men sentenced for conspiring to join ISIS
Three Minnesota men convicted of plotting to join ISIS received prison sentences Monday ranging from 10 years in jail to time served.
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis gave the 10-year sentence to Zacharia Abdurahman, who pleaded guilty but did not cooperate with the government against the other members of what Davis called a “terrorist cell.”
Prosecutors had sought 15 years in jail for Abdurahman, who said he wasn’t willing to testify against his former friends.
Davis told Abdurahman he was giving him less partly because his parents have become active in the campaign against terrorist recruiting in Minnesota’s large Somali community.
Earlier Monday, Abdullahi Mohamed Yusuf, 20, was sentenced to the 21 months he’s already served in jail plus 20 years of supervised release. Abdirizak Warsame, 21, didn’t fare as well, but his sentence of 2½ years in prison was two years less than prosecutors sought.
The judge said it didn’t make sense to jail Yusuf, who pleaded guilty to a terror charge and testified against several of the others.
“I think we’ll miss the opportunity to help this young kid,” Davis said. “I hope I’m not wrong.”
“I will not let you down, your honor,” Yusuf told the judge. Earlier, Yusuf said he was “not the same naive 17-year-old” who was drawn into the conspiracy, and said he now rejects ISIS.
“ISIL’s ideology is flawed,” Yusuf said, using another acronym for the terror group. “There is nothing Islamic about their so-called state.”
Prosecutors had asked for 42 months, but U.S. Attorney Andy Luger praised Yusuf for cooperating with their case and told Davis he accepted the shorter sentence.
Davis was sterner with Warsame, who told the judge he had been manipulated. Davis said he didn’t buy Warsame’s claims that he’s no longer a radical. “The problem I have with you is everything has seemed so smooth,” the judge said. But he went on to tell Warsame he was getting lucky.
“For the next round of sentencings, it’s going to be a whole different ballgame, so count your blessings,” Davis said.
Davis will sentence all nine men in the conspiracy this week in separate hearings. The remaining six will be sentenced Tuesday and Wednesday.
The sentencings cap a long court case that shined a light on terrorism recruitment in Minnesota. The state, with the largest concentration of Somali immigrants in the U.S., has struggled with the issue in recent years. The FBI has said about a dozen people have left Minnesota to join militant groups in Syria in recent years. Before that, more than 22 men were recruited to al-Shabab in Somalia since 2007.
Prosecutors said the conspiracy of the nine began in spring 2014, when a group of friends began inspiring and recruiting each other to travel to Syria to join ISIS. Some succeeded in making the trip, but others didn’t. Six of the nine pleaded guilty. Three went to trial and were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder outside the U.S., which carries a possible life sentence.
The sentences sought this week ranged from just a few years for defendants like Yusuf, who admitted wrongdoing and was cooperative, to 40 years in prison for Guled Ali Omar, who was described as a leader.
Davis, who has handled all of Minnesota’s terror conspiracy cases, had several defendants evaluated by a German scholar on deradicalization and was taking those findings into consideration as he passed sentence.
Several community members wrote to the judge seeking leniency for some of the defendants, including Ilhan Omar, just elected in Minnesota last week as the nation’s first Somali-American state legislator. She wrote that imprisoning the men for decades could backfire and urged Davis instead to focus on rehabilitation.