Experiment in terror

We have followed the saga of the “Minnesota men” indicted on terrorism charges as they sought to leave the United States to join ISIS. ON slightly closer examination, these “Minnesota men” turn out to be Somali Muslims seeking to join the jihad abroad. I wrote about them in the Weekly Standard article “The threat from ‘Minnesota men'” and in the Star Tribune column “Islam and Minnesota: Can we hear some straight talk for a change?” I followed up on Power Line in several posts and in the series “Islamophobia in one state.”

The number of “Minnesota men” charged in last year’s indictments reached nine or ten. Ringleader Abdirizak Warsame was the last man charged. Before he sought to join ISIS, he worked for two employers on the tarmac at the Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport. An FBI informant recorded him aspiring to blow planes out of the sky with rocket-propelled grenades. We still don’t know how his employment at the airport came to an end.

Four of the “Minnesota men,” including Warsame, have pleaded guilty in federal court before Judge Michael Davis (whom I both like and admire). Yesterday’s news gives us the latest on the sentencing of the four, complete with the obligatory description of them as “Twin Cities men.” Judge Davis briefed reporters yesterday on his proposed experiment. The Star Tribune reports:

Four young Twin Cities men facing federal terrorism charges have been chosen for a first-of-its kind deradicalization program under the supervision of a Minneapolis judge and a German expert on Islamic extremism.

U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ordered the defendants to undergo an evaluation by the German scholar, who will visit Minnesota in April. The evaluation will factor into Davis’ sentencing decisions — the four face potentially long prison sentences — and will help in designing a program to steer each away from radical ideology.

Davis said the evaluation would help him understand their motives and potential for rehabilitation. “It does not make sense why someone who’s never been involved in any type of criminal activity, was not seriously religious, [would] in a very short period of time want to go over and be involved in jihad,” he said in a briefing with reporters on Wednesday.

The defendants — Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame, Abdullahi Mohamud Yusuf, and Hanad Mustafe Musse — have pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to provide material support to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The charges followed a monthslong federal investigation into an alleged plot by a group of young men to leave the United States and fight in the Middle East. Five other men have pleaded not guilty and await a May trial.

By all accounts, the program will be the first of its kind in the United States. Such efforts to deprogram radical recruits have gained traction in Europe in recent years as hundreds of young people have left to join Middle Eastern militants. But their track record remains limited.

Davis’ order, issued Wednesday, says Daniel Koehler, a German specialist in Islamic fundamentalism, would identify the factors that drove the radicalization of the defendants, identify their risk of reoffending and specify strategies to steer them away from radical ideologies.

In December, Davis visited Koehler, who helped adapt a Berlin intervention program for neo-Nazis to would-be jihadis.

Davis said Wednesday that defendants will have the option to oppose the order in their cases.

Those of us who are naturally skeptical (to say the least) will find no assurance from Warsame’s attorney, Robert Sicoli. Sicoli said he believes incarceration is not the answer for his client. “My assessment of my guy is he is not a threat to anybody,” Sicoli said. “I’m not an expert, but to be honest I don’t think there are any experts on this.”

And then we have this:

Early last year, Davis approved an experimental release for Yusuf, connecting him with a team of religious scholars, teachers and other mentors. But Yusuf, then an 18-year-old community college student, returned to jail last summer after staff at his St. Paul halfway house found a box cutter taped under his bed.

Chalk it up as a failed experiment.

United States Attorney Andrew Luger has become a parody of political correctness. In a statement Wednesday, Luger said he was “fully supportive” of Judge Davis’s experiment.

Minnesota Public Radio’s Mukhtar Ibrahim has a more detailed report with additional background here. Ibrahim notes Judge Davis’s emphasis that the program is not an alternative to incarceration.

Reading the friendly Star Tribune and MPR accounts, I conclude that Judge Davis’s experiment lacks empirical support or a plausible hypothesis. To the extent that it is anything more than a pre-sentencing investigation — it is titled “Terrorism Disengagement and Deradicalization Program” — it appears to me that we would be better off without it.