Min­nesota men face sen­tenc­ing in plot to join Is­lamic State

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL - MIN­NEAPO­LIS: What is this about? How long will the men go to prison? Fac­tors in sen­tenc­ing Com­mu­nity sup­port The men speak out

Nine Min­nesota men who have been con­victed of plot­ting to join the Is­lamic State group in Syria are sched­uled to be sen­tenced this week, cap­ping a long court case that shined a light on ter­ror­ism re­cruit­ment. The men are ex­pected to re­ceive var­i­ous sen­tences dur­ing sep­a­rate hear­ings to­day, Tues­day and Wed­nes­day. Here are some key is­sues:

Pros­e­cu­tors say that start­ing in the spring of 2014, a group of friends in Min­nesota’s large So­mali com­mu­nity be­gan in­spir­ing and re­cruit­ing each other to travel to Syria to join IS. Some suc­ceeded in mak­ing the trip, but oth­ers didn’t.

Nine men were pros­e­cuted. Six of them pleaded guilty to con­spir­ing to pro­vide ma­te­rial sup­port to a for­eign ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, which has a max­i­mum sen­tence of 15 years in prison. The other three went to trial, where they were also con­victed of con­spir­acy to com­mit mur­der out­side the US, which car­ries a pos­si­ble life sen­tence.

When the trial ended, US At­tor­ney Andy Luger called it “one of the most im­por­tant” tri­als in Min­nesota in years be­cause it put a spot­light on on­go­ing ter­ror­ism re­cruit­ment in the state.

The FBI has said about a dozen peo­ple have left Min­nesota to join mil­i­tant groups in Syria in re­cent years. Since 2007, more than 22 men have joined al-Shabab in So­ma­lia. The over­all in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ter­ror re­cruit­ment is on­go­ing.

That’s up to the judge. Pros­e­cu­tors are ask­ing for lengthy sen­tences, cit­ing the vi­o­lence of the Is­lamic State group and some of the men’s per­sis­tent at­tempts to join. But de­fense at­tor­neys are seek­ing le­niency, say­ing their clients were young men who felt alien­ated and caught be­tween two worlds.

Pros­e­cu­tors are rec­om­mend­ing the stiffest sen­tence - 40 years in prison and su­per­vi­sion for life - for Guled Ali Omar, who was once con­sid­ered a leader of the group. Omar’s at­tor­ney, Glenn Bruder, is ask­ing for 15 years or less, say­ing Omar and his co-de­fen­dants were the “Three-Stooges of in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism. Their ef­forts to aban­don the United States were naive, ill-con­sid­ered and bum­bling.”

Pros­e­cu­tors are seek­ing 30 years in prison for Omar’s co-de­fen­dants, and 15 years for four oth­ers who pleaded guilty. They are rec­om­mend­ing fourand-a-half years and three-and-a-half years for two men who co­op­er­ated. De­fense at­tor­neys are seek­ing less time in each case.

In ad­di­tion to stan­dard pre­sen­tence in­ves­ti­ga­tion reports, US District Judge Michael Davis will con­sider eval­u­a­tions done on some of the men to as­sess their risk for re-en­gag­ing in ter­ror­is­tic ac­tiv­i­ties.

The eval­u­a­tions were con­ducted as part of a pro­gram Davis cre­ated to give him more in­for­ma­tion at sen­tenc­ing and to help de­vise plans to de-rad­i­cal­ize the men. Davis, who has been at the fore­front of ef­forts to try to rein­te­grate ter­ror­ism de­fen­dants into so­ci­ety, will also con­sider the level of co­op­er­a­tion - or sub­stan­tial as­sis­tance each man pro­vided to the gov­ern­ment.

De­fense at­tor­neys sub­mit­ted let­ters from com­mu­nity mem­bers that high­light the men’s char­ac­ters and ask for le­niency. Among them was Il­han Omar, who re­cently be­came the first So­ma­l­iAmer­i­can state leg­is­la­tor.

Omar wrote that in­car­cer­at­ing the young men for decades would es­sen­tially be a life sen­tence. She said such stiff pun­ish­ment would cause fur­ther alien­ation and cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment in which ex­trem­ism can flour­ish. Omar asked Davis to con­sider a restora­tive ap­proach that fo­cuses on in­clu­sion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

In re­cent weeks, a cou­ple of the men have come for­ward and said they’ve changed. Ab­d­i­rizak Warsame re­cently told 60 Min­utes that he be­lieves two men whom he helped get to Syria are now dead.

“I be­lieve I am re­spon­si­ble for their deaths and I think about that ev­ery day,” Warsame said, later ad­ding that the Is­lamic State group is to­tal non­sense and, “It’s not worth your life.”— AP

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