Rep. Ilhan Omar asks judge for compassion in ISIS recruit sentencing

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The 9 Minnesota men charged with planning to join ISIS are scheduled to be sentenced next week. Ahead of those court dates, 13 letters were sent to Judge Michael Davis in the case of defendant Abdirahman Yasin Daud, including a letter from state Rep. Ilhan Omar, who on Election Night became with first elected Somali-American lawmaker in the nation.

Rep. Omar asked Judge Davis for “compassion” and a “restorative approach to justice,” concluding that “this ruling can set a precedent and has the potential to be a landmark case in addressing extremism.” Read a complete copy of Rep. Omar’s letter at the bottom of this story.

Daud was one of two young men from the Twin Cities arrested in San Diego in April 2015 in an alleged plot to buy fake passports for travel to Syria. Federal prosecutors requested 30 years in prison for Daud, with a lifetime of supervised release.

The 13 letters sent to Judge Davis on behalf of Daud include similar pleas for leniency from Minneapolis City Council member Abdi Warsame, a Minneapolis Public Schools dean of students, several youth program coordinators and Daud’s own mother and brother. Warsame’s brief letter said Daud “is a young man who has a future ahead of him.”

The defense has pushed Judge Davis for lighter sentences, saying the young, immigrant men were caught between two worlds – the United States and pride in their Somali heritage. The defense argued the young men were lured by propaganda on the internet that suggested that a “true Muslim” should be in Syria saving other Muslims who are being killed and trying to restore the Caliphate.

But responses filed by federal prosecutors on Thursday show the feds are holding firm on their request for tough sentences. In this case of defendant Guled Omar, prosecutors said the young man attempted to “make light of what is an extraordinarily dangerous conspiracy. Far from comedians engaged in slapstick comedy in black and white film, ISIL’s members engage in wholesale murder, rape, and cultural annihilation. But unlike the Three Stooges referenced by counsel for Omar, ISIL films in full color.”

In the case of defendant Zachariah Abdurahman, prosecutors added the following:

“The defendants attempt to draw a parallel between ISIL propaganda and the recruiting efforts of the United States Army. The comparison is odious and insulting. More than that, the comparison is really only pointing out that ISIL and the US Army use the same communications mediums to deliver their respective messages. Both use video games and both use glossy magazines. This parallelism in delivery methods proves nothing. People send birthday cards through the mail; other people send anthrax through the mail. This does not make criminals of people who send birthday cards through the mail. And of course, defendants’ parallelism ignores the fact that the message being sent via glossy magazines and video games by ISIL depicts war crimes, up to and including murder on an industrial scale. The US Army’s message is, to put it mildly, different.”

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.

Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame:  A cooperating defendant, prosecutors recommended 54 months in prison.

Abdullahi Mohamed Yusuf:  A cooperating defendant, prosecutors recommended 42 months in prison.

Ilhan Omar’s letter to Judge Davis, dated Nov. 8

Honorable Judge Davis,

As you undoubtedly deliberate with great caution the sentencing of nine recently convicted Somali-American men, I bring to your attention the ramifications of sentencing young men who made a consequential mistake to decades in federal prison. Incarcerating 20-year-old men for 30 or 40 years is essentially a life sentence. Society will have no expectations of the to be 50 or 60-year-old released prisoners; it will view them with distrust and revulsion. Such punitive measures not only lack efficacy, they inevitably create an environment in which extremism can flourish, aligning with the presupposition of terrorist recruitment: “Americans do not accept you and continue to trivialize your value. Instead of being a nobody, be a martyr.”

The best deterrent to fanaticism is a system of compassion. We must alter our attitude and approach; if we truly want to affect change, we should refocus our efforts on inclusion and rehabilitation. A long-term prison sentence for one who chose violence to combat direct marginalization is a statement that our justice system misunderstands the guilty. A restorative approach to justice assesses the lure of criminality and addresses it.

The desire to commit violence is not inherent to people -- it is the consequences of systematic alienation; people seek violent solutions when the process established for enacting change is inaccessible to them. Fueled by disaffection turned to malice, if the guilty were willing to kill and be killed fighting perceived injustice, imagine the consequence of them hearing, “I believe you can be rehabilitated. I want you to become part of my community, and together we will thrive.” We use this form of distributive justice for patients with chemical dependencies; treatment and societal reintegration. The most effective penance is making these men ambassadors of reform.

The restorative approach provides a long-term solution – though the self-declared Islamic State may soon suffer defeat, their radical approach to change-making will continue as it has throughout history – by criminalizing the undergirding construct rather than its predisposed victims. Therein, this ruling can set a precedent and has the potential to be a landmark case in addressing extremism.

Thank you for your careful attention,

Ilhan Omar
State Representative-Elect – MN 60B