Day 1: Sentences Vary for 3 Minn. Men Who Pleaded Guilty to Terrorism Charges

November 14, 2016 10:13 PM

Included in this report:

  • Life Experiences of 'Hate and Prejudice' Attracted Minn. Man to Islamic State  
  • Abdirizak Warsame Sentenced to 30 Months, Judge 'Not Convinced'
  • Abdullahi Yusuf Sentenced to Time Served, Luger Addresses Court

     

Sentences handed down Monday varied for three Somali-Minnesotan men who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges.

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The three men – Abdullahi Yusuf, Abdirizak Warsame and Zacharia Abdurahman – were the first three of nine men to be sentenced in the case. The others will be sentenced Tuesday and Wednesday.

The sentences were related to what U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis has called a “terrorist cell” in the Twin Cities.

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 the Islamic State. Some succeeded in making the trip, but others didn't.

Nine men were prosecuted. Six of them pleaded guilty, and the other three went to trial in May.

Yusuf, Warsame and Abdurahman were among the six who pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

Yusuf and Warsame were given lighter sentences than Abdurahman for their cooperation with the government; both of them testified against their three friends during the highly-publicized May terror trial.

Yusuf was sentenced to time served, which was 21 months.  

That's long enough according to Federal Judge Michael Davis, "it doesn't make sense for me to send you to prison."  

Yusuf's uncle realized the lenient punishment was a trade-off for cooperation with the government.

Yusuf will transition to a halfway house for up to a year, plus be on supervised release for 20 years.  

His attorney, Jean Brandl says he'll be monitored.

"With a GPS or some kind of ankle monitoring and he'll have very strict rules on when or how he can leave," said Brandl.

Brandl says Yusuf will answer to a probation officer and the judge will decide if and when Yusuf can leave the halfway house for education, prayer or work.

Yusuf is part of a Jihadi rehabilitation program at Heartland Democracy in Minneapolis. 

Warsame was sentenced to 30 months with credit for 11 months already served. He will be on supervised release for 20 years as well. 

Abdurahman, on the other hand, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

On Tuesday, sentences will be handed down for Hamza Ahmed, Hanad Musse and Adnan Farah, who also pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. In each case, the prosecution is recommending the maximum sentence, which is 15 years in prison.

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2:40 p.m. Life Experiences of 'Hate and Prejudice' Attracted Minn. Man to Islamic State  

A Somali-Minnesotan man who pleaded guilty to trying to travel to Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State group said he was attracted to ISIS ideology because it offered him a place of belonging.  

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 the Islamic State. Some succeeded in making the trip, but others didn't.

Nine men were prosecuted. Six of them pleaded guilty, and the other three went to trial in May.

Zacharia Abdurahman was one of the six who pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. For his sentencing Monday, the prosecution recommended 15 years in prison, which is the maximum.

On Monday, Abdurahman was sentenced to 10 years in prison. There will be no fine. He will also be on supervised release for 20 years.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis said he gave him less than the maximum because his parents came forward to denounce extremism, and "they are the ones who will suffer" with Abdurahman in prison.

In an emotional testimony ahead of sentencing, Abdurahman said that the experiences of his life – experiences of “hate and prejudice” – were what attracted him to the Islamic State.

“[ISIS] would say, 'Come here. Come here and you will be dignified. Come here and you will be honored. You will be a soldier of the Islamic State. Come here and you will be a king on earth. You will be a knight of war. Come here and you will not be judged. Come here and no one will look at your nationality. No one will look at your ethnicity.’” Abdurahman said. “To me, this was a beautiful message.”

Abdurahman then told the story of a time during his freshman year when he walked out of a McDonald’s and a group of “total strangers” told him to go back to where he came from.

“It’s not because they judged me by my name or anything, but it was because of the Islamic attire I was wearing,” he said. “They judged me just by me being a Muslim.”

“There were other instances that were very small, but all of these prejudices made me feel like, now that I look back, made me feel like a foreigner even though I was born here, raised here,” he said. “I felt out of place. I felt out of touch. I connected the dots.”

Abdurahman also said he was moved by the Syrian conflict, saying the whole world was ignoring their cries and no one was responding to them.

“I connected the dots,” he said again.

Abdurahman also said the entire conspiracy only took about 14 months and that there was a sense of urgency in their group.

“Over a couple months, I became a full supporter of ISIS, a passionate supporter, a person who was willing to go overseas and give my life for this organization and what it stood for,” Abdurahman said. “This organization is different. They emulated the Prophet – peace and blessings be upon him – in a way, because they were going out saying they were righteous men, men who were fighting for their religion, protecting people.”

Abdurahman said ISIS quoted Quaranic verses that had a “deep impact” on him, and when his friend, Abdi Nur, successfully made it overseas, that’s when the “tide changed” for him and he decided to go.

Ahead of sentencing, Abdurahman’s attorney said Abdurahman was committed to a process of moving away from ISIS ideology, saying it was a “process” and that a flip was not going to be switched overnight. She argued that he admitted his guilt in court, named his codefendants individually and renounced the idea that he was entrapped by the FBI, which has been a hot-button issue in the Somali-Minnesotan community.

All of these actions were “tangible evidence” that Abdurahman was moving away from extremist ideology, his attorney argued.

But before sentencing, Davis talked about the ISIS propaganda videos he had to watch to prepare for the cases, saying they were so brutal that he had to make sure no one was around when he watched them.

“It’s a slaughter of human beings, all in the name of a religion, jihadi religion,” Davis said.

Davis then added that ISIS has a handbook and that Abdurahman fit into that handbook.

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12:45 p.m. Abdirizak Warsame Sentenced to 30 Months, Judge 'Not Convinced'

A Somali-Minnesotan man who prosecutors say tried to help his friends travel to Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State group was sentenced to 30 months in prison Monday, with U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis saying he’s “not convinced” that Abdirizak Warsame is not still a jihadist.

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 the Islamic State. Some succeeded in making the trip, but others didn't.

Nine men were prosecuted. Six of them pleaded guilty, and the other three went to trial in May.

Warsame, who is one of the six who pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, chose to cooperate with the government and testified against his three friends during that trial.
 

Read Warsame’s Trial Testimony Here


For his sentencing Monday, the prosecution recommended 4.5 years in prison for Warsame, and the defense asked that he only be sentenced to 18 months.

On Monday, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison, with credit for 11 months already served. There will be no fine imposed. He will also be on supervised release for 20 years.

“This is a ‘Fake it till you make it’ group,” Davis said just before he pronounced the sentence. “I’ve had all the cases, seen all the lies, all the deceptions that this conspiracy, this cell, has put forth. It’s out of the playbook of ISIL. ISIL makes no bones about it; they publish what they ‘re doing, and we see that a cancerous sore developed here in our community.”

“I’ve done some horrible things in my past, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about what I’ve done,” Warsame said ahead of sentencing. “I’m very shameful and apologize not only to my family who is here today but to my whole community. I feel as though I’ve let them down.”

Warsame had pleaded to Davis to allow him to help his community by spreading awareness about radical extremism.

“I promise I won’t let you down,” Warsame told Davis. “Time is money, and I’d rather be out in my community and helping them sooner than later.”

As in the sentencing of Abdullahi Yusuf, U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Andy Luger spoke to the court on behalf of Warsame ahead of sentencing because of his cooperation with the government.

“Mr. Warsame came forward, admitted his own guilt, and testified truthfully against close friends,” Luger said. “While this is difficult in any trial, it was made far more stressful for Mr. Warsame.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Allyn also praised Warsame for cooperating “very soon after he was arrested” and for cooperating during trial. She said that because Warsame was part of the plot from the beginning, his testimony in trial was “crucial in fleshing out the origin of the conspiracy and its length.”

But Davis wasn’t convinced that Warsame had truly changed.

Ahead of sentencing, Davis had Warsame read back a transcript of secret audio recordings the government had made where he described the conspiracy to travel to Syria as a “game of chess” where you have to make the right moves.

Davis said Warsame’s willingness to cooperate with the government and testify in trial was just another “chess move.”

Davis said the problem he had with Warsame is that everything has gone “too smoothly.”

“You’re on 60 Minutes. You want to go out in the community and talk about this. I’m just not convinced,” Davis said. “I’m not convinced that you’re still not a jihadist. Nothing other than you saying you’re not has been put forth to me.” 

“I can’t make a mistake,” Davis added later. “This isn’t like a dope dealer going out and buying more dope and coming back on another charge … terrorists are different.”

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11 a.m. Abdullahi Yusuf Sentenced to Time Served, Luger Addresses Court

The first of nine Somali-Minnesotan men convicted of terrorism charges was sentenced Monday morning.

Twenty-year-old Abdullahi Yusuf pleaded guilty in February 2015 to conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. The prosecution recommended 42 months in prison for Yusuf, and the defense asked that he only be sentenced to the time he had already served.

On Monday, he was sentenced to time served. There will be no fine imposed. He will also be sentenced to 20 years of supervised release and will be placed in a halfway house for up to a year.

“What’s happening is something that has to be prosecuted. The court is obliged to follow the law,” U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis said before adding that there was still a chance for Yusuf to be rehabilitated. “But we’ll lose that opportunity, however small, in turning this individual around and hopefully not having him continue on being a terrorist, so I’m going to take that chance.”

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 the Islamic State. Some succeeded in making the trip, but others didn't.

Nine men were prosecuted. Six of them pleaded guilty, and the other three went to trial in May. Yusuf, who is one of the six who pleaded guilty, testified against his three “former friends” during that trial.
 

Read Yusuf's Trial Testimony Here


In a move that he called “rare if not unprecedented,” U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Andy Luger addressed the court on behalf of Yusuf on Monday to say how much he “appreciates and values” Yusuf’s decision to testify in court under “extremely difficult circumstances.”

“In this case, under strong pressure not to cooperate, Yusuf came forward, admitted his own guilt and testified truthfully against close friends,” Luger said. “He was not only subjected to community pressure, but so was his family. I sat in the courtroom during his testimony, and we all felt the hostility toward him and his family.”

Luger said Yusuf and his family were harassed, but he “withstood anger and hostility” and came through “stronger and better.”

“I have never seen that happen,” Yusuf’s attorney said about Luger’s address. “I want this sentence to say, ‘If you really do throw away the ideology of terrorist organizations like ISIS, the government will back you up.’”

Yusuf also spoke to the judge ahead of his sentencing, saying he apologized to his family, the United States and his community.

“The only reason I’m alive today is because I was stopped at the airport,” Yusuf said. “Talk is cheap, your honor. I need to pay my debt to society. I want to become a productive member of society and contribute to my community.”

Ahead of sentencing, Davis questioned Yusuf about his ideology and played an ISIS recruitment video in court.

“Those are the types of videos you watched over and over,” Davis said to Yusuf.

Yusuf denied that, saying the ISIS propaganda was “pretty different” in the spring of 2014, although upon more questioning he admitted that he had believed that if he died as a martyr, he would secure salvation for both himself and his family.

“This case is built around a group of individuals who conspired, lied to their families, lied to the FBI but continued and continued and continued to try to leave the country and be warriors for ISIL or the Islamic State,” Davis said. “Would you agree with that?”

“Yes, your honor,” Yusuf replied.

“When so many lies are laid on each other, how is the court going to know you aren’t just lying to me?” Davis asked Yusuf.

“I have taken certain steps, like cooperating and programming,” Yusuf replied. “It’s a long road. I’m going to have to show it through my actions.”

Davis replied, saying, “You know, I have hope for you.”

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9:30 a.m.: Man Who Testified Against 'Former Friends' Set to be Sentenced

The first of nine Somali-Minnesotan men convicted of terrorism charges is set to be sentenced Monday morning.

Twenty-year-old Abdullahi Yusuf pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, which has a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The prosecution is recommending 42 months in prison for Yusuf, and the defense is asking that he only be sentenced to the time he has already served.

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 the Islamic State. 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, and the other three went to trial, where they were also convicted of conspiracy to commit murder outside the U.S., which carries a possible life sentence.

Yusuf testified against his “former friends” during that trial.

Read Yusuf's Trial Testimony Here

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9 a.m.: 3 of 9 Minn. Men to be Sentenced on Terrorism Charges Monday

Three Somali-Minnesotans who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges are set to be sentenced Monday. 

Abdullahi Yusuf, Abdirizak Warsame and Zacharia Abdurahman are the first three of nine men to be sentenced this week. The others will be sentenced Tuesday and Wednesday.

READ: Minnesota Men Face Sentencing in Plot to Join Islamic State

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 the Islamic State. 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 six included Yusuf, Warsame, Abdurahman, Adnan Farah, Hanad Musse and Hamza Ahmed.

The other three went to trial, where they were also convicted of conspiracy to commit murder outside the U.S., which carries a possible life sentence. They included Guled Omar, Abdirahman Daud and Mohamed Farah.

When the trial ended, U.S. 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.

In recent weeks, a couple of the men have come forward and said they've changed. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS had the worldwide exclusive interview with Adnan Farah.
 

See the “Teen to Terrorist” series here.

 

READ: Prosecutors in Minn. Terror Case Finalize Sentencing Recommendations

 

Here's a breakdown of the sentencing recommendations:

Pleaded Guilty              

Zacharia Abdurahman

  • Prosecution recommendation: 15 years (maximum)
  • Defense recommendation: Less than the maximum

Adnan Farah

  • Prosecution recommendation: 15 years (maximum)
  • Defense recommendation: Short sentence and/or a halfway house

Hanad Musse

  • Prosecution recommendation: 15 years (maximum)
  • Defense recommendation: 6 years

Hamza Ahmed

  • Prosecution recommendation: 15 years (maximum)
  • Defense recommendation: Less than the maximum

Abdullahi Yusuf

  • Prosecution recommendation: 3.5 years
  • Defense recommendation: Only time already served

Abdirizak Warsame

  • Prosecution recommendation: 4.5 years
  • Defense recommendation: 18 months

Convicted at Trial

Guled Omar

  • Prosecution recommendation: 40 years
  • Defense recommendation: 15 years

Abdirahman Daud

  • Prosecution recommendation: 30 years
  • Defense recommendation: 11-14 years

Mohamed Farah

  • Prosecution recommendation: 30 years
  • Defense recommendation: About 9 years

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Credits

Jennie Lissarrague & Beth McDonough

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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