MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - Monday marked the first of 3 days of sentencing hearings for 9 young Minnesota men guilty of attempting to join ISIS. The common bond of the first 3 defendants is cooperation. Abdullahi Yusuf and Abdi Warsame testified in the trial of 3 other ISIS recruits, and prosecutors received help from the parents of Zacharia Abdurahman.
There was suspense leading up to Monday's sentencings, with many in the community wondering whether Judge Michael Davis would opt for lenient sentences and rehabilitation over hard prison time. READ THE LETTER - Rep. Ilhan Omar asks judge for compassion in ISIS recruit sentencing
Abdullahi Yusuf, 20, was the first defendant in court Monday. Federal prosecutors asked Judge Davis to impose a sentence of 42 months total, but the judge decided the 22 months Yusuf has already spent in jail are enough. Yusuf was sentenced to time served, plus 20 years of supervised release.
Judge Davis grew emotional as he prepared to hand down his sentence to Yusuf, telling the court, "This is so difficult." Just before sentencing, Davis said, "I'm going to take that chance. I'm going to take that chance."
On May 28th, 2014, Yusuf was stopped at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport trying to board a flight to Turkey. Yusuf pleaded guilty in Feb. 2015 to conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. In May 2016, he became one of the star witnesses in the federal trial exploring the recruitment efforts of ISIS in Minnesota.
Abdizirak Warsame was the second defendant to step before Judge Davis on Monday. Prosecutors recommended 54 months in prison, but Warsame was given a lighter sentence of 30 months in prison, plus 20 years of supervised release.
Warsame told Judge Davis "I've done some horrible things in my past," but he now wants to work against "radical extremism" in the community. Warsame recently appeared on 60 Minutes to talk about his steps to de-radicalize and his desire to work against ISIS recruiting.
"The problem I have with you is everything's gone too smoothly," Judge Davis told Warsame. "I'm just not convinced."
The FBI believed Warsame, 21, had been planning to leave the United States for Syria in the spring of 2014, but his passport application was denied. More recently, he had been discussing plans to travel to Syria from Somalia in 2015, according to the charges. Warsame pleaded guilty in Feb. 2016 and testified at the May trial of 3 co-conspirators.
The toughest sentence of Day 1 was the punishment handed to Zacharia Abdurahman. Prosecutors recommended 15 years in prison, but Judge Davis gave him 10 years instead, "because you're getting credit for your parents stepping forward and talking to the community."
Abdurahman, 21, apologized in court to his family, who he calls the real victims.
"I was selfish," he said. "I was headed to my path of destruction."
Abdurahman is one of 4 men who took a bus from Minneapolis to New York in Nov. 2014, then attempted to board an overseas flight at JFK Airport with an ultimate destination of Syria. Abdurahman pleaded guilty in Sept. 2015, but didn't testify at the trial in May.
The 9 defendants are facing a wide range of sentences. The 3 men who were convicted of trying to join ISIS could get between 30 or 40 years in prison. Four others who pled guilty are facing a recommended sentence of 15 years in prison. The U.S. Attorney's Office is suggesting about 4 years in prison for the two men who cooperated with prosecutors.
Sentencing hearings have been set for Nov. 14, Nov. 15 and Nov. 16. The following is a list of recommendations, pertaining to each defendant:
Mohamed Abdihamid Farah: Prosecution requested 30 years in prison and lifetime of supervised release.
Abdirahman Yasin Daud: Prosecution requested 30 years in prison, lifetime of supervised release.
Guled Omar: Prosecutors requested 40 years in prison. Defense requested 15 years.
Hanad Mustafe Musse: Prosecution requested 15 years imprisonment, and lifetime of supervised release. Defense requested 72 months.
Adnan Abdihamid Farah: Prosecution requested 15 years imprisonment and lifetime of supervised release.
Hamza Naj Ahmed: Prosecution requested 15 years of imprisonment and lifetime of supervised release. Defense requested half-way house, also has motion to seal sentencing report.
Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman: Prosecution requested 15 years prison and lifetime of supervised release. Judge sentenced Abdurahmanto 10 years in prison, plus 20 years of supervised release.
Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame: A cooperating defendant, prosecutors recommended 54 months in prison. Judge sentenced Warsame to 30 months in prison, plus 20 years of supervised release.
Abdullahi Mohamed Yusuf: A cooperating defendant, prosecutors recommended 42 months in prison. Judge sentenced Yusuf to time served, plus 20 years of supervised release.