A terror deradicalization program — established in the “Ground Zero” of terror recruitment, Minnesota’s Twin Cities — has already failed after just a few months.
The program was established after a federal court released 19-year-old terror suspect Abdullahi Yusuf to a halfway house earlier this year. Federal prosecutors opposed Yusuf’s release, but were overruled by the federal judge in the case, Michael J. Davis, the Chief Judge of the District of Minnesota. Today, Yusuf again sits in jail, having violated the terms of his release.
Remarkably, Judge Davis said today in a separate case of six men charged with trying to join the Islamic State that he would be willing to consider “less restrictive options” than detaining the men – just a day after Yusuf’s re-arrest.
Last May, Yusuf was arrested at the Minneapolis airport while on his way to Syria by way of Turkey to join the Islamic State. One of his accomplices, Abdi Nur, did make it to Syria, and he now serves as an effective recruiter for the terror group.
Just last week, the Wall Street Journal reported on the program with an article titled “A Test Case for ‘Deradicalization’“:
The path of reform for Abdullahi Yusuf, a U.S. teenager who tried to become a radical Islamic soldier, passes through writings of Martin Luther King Jr., readings of the U.S. Constitution and discussions about life and literature with a fellow Somali-American named Ahmed Amin.
Mr. Yusuf’s attempt to travel to the Middle East last year helped lead authorities to six Minnesota men who were charged last month in connection with a plan to join Islamic State abroad. The 19-year-old has become a test case for whether Americans lured by Islamic extremism can be deradicalized.
A Minnesota judge earlier this year sent Mr. Yusuf to a halfway house, where he adheres to a tailor-made curriculum aimed at reintegrating him into American society and his immigrant community here. If the program succeeds, Mr. Yusuf’s sentence could be reduced — and the approach to his deradicalization replicated, experts say.
Counterterrorism experts believe it is the first such effort in the U.S. to try to turn a young person connected to a terror prosecution away from an extremist Islamist ideology since the advent of groups like al-Shabaab and Islamic State, or ISIS.
Apparently, reading Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Wright’s Native Son, and articles about the experience of Native Americans didn’t sway Yusuf to keep compliant with the program. The Star-Tribune reports today:
Abdullahi Yusuf, a Somali-American who pleaded guilty to conspiring to support terrorists in the Middle East, has been taken into custody for allegedly violating conditions while living in a St. Paul halfway house, according to court documents filed Monday.
Yusef, a student at Inver Grove Community College, drew national attention after a federal judge decided to place him in a halfway house and provide counseling for him rather than hold him in custody while awaiting sentencing.
Yusuf’s alleged violations were not detailed in court records.
Despite the violations not being detailed, the video report on Abdullahi’s re-arrest aired on the local CBS affiliate notes Abdullahi’s violations occurred on the same day last month that six other Twin Cities men were arrested for attempting to join the Islamic State.
One additional interesting tidbit is that according to the New York Times, federal prosecutors opposed Yusuf’s release:
Mr. Yusuf, Mr. Nur’s co-defendant, has pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support for terrorism and faces a maximum sentence of 15 years. But in an experiment being watched nationally, Judge Michael J. Davis of Federal District Court agreed to a presentence plan to divert Mr. Yusuf to a halfway house with the support of Heartland Democracy, an education nonprofit in Minneapolis. He worked at Best Buy and attended community college until late November, when he was jailed for a time in connection with his attempt to travel to Syria. His supporters are now working with the court to get him back in classes and eventually back in a job.
The idea, said Mary McKinley, executive director of Heartland Democracy, is to gradually reintegrate Mr. Yusuf into the community, and possibly give him a role in countering the radicalization of young people.
“Ideally, Abdullahi will be able to tell his story in a way that is useful to young people who are frustrated and disengaged,” Ms. McKinley said. His lawyer, Jean M. Brandl, said her client was not prepared to speak publicly.
Federal prosecutors opposed giving Mr. Yusuf a break, noting that he had lied to F.B.I. agents at the airport. But Judge Davis, who knows the Somali community well enough to ask about clans and sub-clans, went along with the plan, intended to reduce the chasm between Somalis and law enforcement officials. Parents and friends concerned about a young person drawn to the Islamic State are more likely to call the police, advocates say, if they believe there is an alternative to a long prison sentence.
The Associated Press reports today that during a hearing for the other six men arrested in April accused of trying to join the Islamic State Judge Davis said he is willing to consider “less restrictive options” than holding the men until trial:
Five Minnesota men accused of trying to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group were ordered Tuesday to remain in custody pending trial, but Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis said he’s open to exploring less restrictive options.
The five men are all charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization; four are charged with attempting to provide such support. Their attorneys had appealed orders that the men be held while their cases proceed, arguing their clients weren’t dangerous or a flight risk.
In separate hearings for each man Tuesday, Davis said no set of conditions could reasonably ensure the community’s safety or guarantee that each man would not flee. But he told attorneys to come up with plans that could support their release.
“I’m not rushing into this,” Davis said. “It’s a slow process. But I’m taking a look at each of these defendants individually.”
As the saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”