Two MN men convicted of joining Islamic State ask to join de-radicalization program

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Two of the three Minnesota men who were found guilty last month of planning to fight for the Islamic State overseas are asking the judge for an alternative to life in prison.

Abdirahman Daud's and Guled Omar's lawyers say the men want to participate in a de-radicalization program that four other Minnesota men were court ordered to participate in last March. One month later, another man who also pleaded guilty to the same crimes was court ordered to participate.

Daud and Omar were charged with conspiracy to commit murder outside the United States, conspiracy to join the Islamic State, attempting to join the Islamic State and some additional charges.

Their verdict was likely a warning to other defendants in similar cases across the country, says the Star Tribune. For more details on their case, read this article in City Journal.

Significance of the case explained

At the beginning of the trial, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger told reporters that this was one of the most important verdicts in recent Minnesota history, said MinnPost. You can read the full 1-on-1 interview with Luger after the trial here.

Luger has previously said that terrorist recruiting in Minnesota “is an ongoing problem" and that federal and local law enforcement “remain dedicated to ending terror recruitment in our state.”

He told MinnPost that he hopes this case would be a "wakeup call" to the community.

U.S. District Judge Michael Davis is responsible for introducing the de-radicalization program and was the author of the original court order. He has previously said that the assessment is not an alternative to incarceration, reports MPR.

Davis has not yet set a sentencing date for any of the defendants.

MPR also said that it's unclear if Mohamed Farah, a third defendant who was too convicted in the conspiracy, will ask to be in the program.

What is the de-radicalization program?

The program was developed by Director of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-Radicalization Studies Daniel Koehler. He has extensive experience with neo-Nazis and other extremists, reports KMSP.

Koehler was brought to the U.S. to work with probation officials and conduct a de-radicalization study in Minneapolis, according to MPR. The goal of the study is to see if the men can be “de-radicalized” and integrated back into society.

The program was introduced by the same U.S. district judge for both cases - Michael Davis, says the Star Tribune. He did it out of a desire for “more information than is otherwise available” to determine appropriate sentencings.

Here’s what the study consisted of, according to the court orders.

  •  Figuring out what the “driving factors of radicalization” are.
  •  Completing a “risk assessment” – basically, how engaged they were and how serious they seemed to be about committing violence. Then identifying a level of risk of them “re-offending.”
  • Finding “target areas” to try in the de-radicalization process, and forecasting how successful the intervention and de-radicalization might be.
  •  Coming up with a “disengagement and de-radicalization intervention program” that’s specific to each suspect, and providing a phase-by-phase process for them to work through. This can include counseling, education, mentoring and other resources.

Terrorism recruitment in Minnesota

The Twin Cities is home to the largest Somali population in the United States, according to U.S. News, and reports note dozens of young men have left the state to join extremist groups in recent years. It’s a concern for the local Somali community as well.

In September, a government task force published a report looking at the cases of 58 individuals who left the U.S. to fight with Islamist militant groups overseas. It found 15 of those people came from Minnesota, the highest amount from any state. (Those numbers only come from a sample size, though, as the number of American foreign fighters is thought to be in the hundreds, the report says.)

To help combat Minnesota’s “terror recruiting problem,” three state lawmakers asked the legislature for $2 million to invest in community-based programs that work to keep at-risk kids from turning to extremist groups.

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