U.S. court in Minn. aims to deradicalize terrorists

Amy Forliti
Associated Press

Minneapolis — A federal court in Minnesota has created a program to assess the risks posed by terrorism defendants and come up with plans to deradicalize them so they don’t engage in similar activities again.

U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, who has handled recent terrorism cases in Minnesota, outlined the program Wednesday and called it the first of its kind in the country. It initially will be applied to four men who have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to the Islamic State group, and Davis said it could be expanded to supervise other terror defendants, including those being released from prison and re-entering society.

“We are being proactive in trying to protect and serve the community,” Davis said.

Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the U.S. and it has been a target for terrorism recruiters. About a dozen Minnesota residents have traveled to Syria to join militant groups in recent years. In addition, more than 22 young men from Minnesota’s Somali community have left the state since 2007 to join al-Shabab in Somalia.

Ten men have been charged in the recent Islamic State group cases. One is believed to be in Syria, while five await trial. Four others — Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame, Hanad Mustofe Musse, Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman and Abdullahi Mohamed Yusuf — have pleaded guilty. Prosecutors have described the men as friends who recruited and inspired each other to join the Islamic State group.

Davis said Wednesday that the court’s deradicalization program enlists the help of Daniel Koehler, director of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-radicalization Studies, and that it has two parts.

First, Koehler will evaluate the risks posed by the four men who have pleaded guilty and will offer recommendations for deradicalizing each one. The purpose of that evaluation, which is in addition to a standard presentencing investigation, is to give Davis more information as he determines the men’s sentences.

Koehler will then train U.S. probation and pretrial officers, who will be responsible for supervising the defendants.

Davis said the four can object to the evaluation if they don’t want to participate. Jon Hopeman, the attorney for Abdurahman, said he just learned of the program Wednesday morning when the judge explained it to attorneys. He said he’ll study it to get a better understanding, and will consult with Abdurahman and Abdurahman’s family.

U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said he supports the court’s initiative.

“This program is one important step to address terror recruiting by assisting those who want to reject the call of ISIL,” Luger said in a statement.