MINNEAPOLIS – A Minnesota man serving 20 years of supervised release for conspiring to join the Islamic State group was allowed to return to a halfway house Tuesday, more than a week after he was arrested for watching a news documentary on terrorism.
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis found that Abdullahi Mohamud Yusuf, 21, violated terms of his release when he watched a CNN documentary about the Islamic State group last month. But the judge allowed Yusuf to return to the halfway house instead of prison, telling Yusuf that he needs to continue to reform himself.
"I need you to work on self-discipline and understand what made you do what you did. If you don't get to that point, our problem is not going to be solved," Davis said. "We are working together to make you well."
Yusuf was among nine Minnesota men sentenced last year for conspiring to join the militant group in Syria. He was barely 18 when FBI agents stopped him in 2014 as he was trying to leave the United States. While he initially lied to his parents, authorities and the judge — leading Davis to call him a "perpetual liar" — he has since provided substantial assistance to prosecutors and was sentenced to time served, plus two decades of supervised release.
Davis, who has overseen all of Minnesota's terrorism cases, has expressed dismay that no deradicalization programs exist in federal prison to help young defendants like Yusuf, who have a chance of turning their lives around. Knowing that all of these terror defendants would eventually return to society, Davis created his own program with the goal of keeping them from embracing violent ideologies again.
Davis said from the start that he would be watching Yusuf closely, and the incident over the news documentary highlights how seriously the judge is taking the matter.
Under conditions of his release, Yusuf isn't allowed to watch extremist material. Yusuf told Davis he thought that meant he couldn't watch terrorist propaganda, such as radical lectures or other videos similar to the online material he watched, and was drawn to, in 2014.
Yusuf said he didn't know a news report on mainstream television would violate his release — and testimony showed no one specifically warned him about such programs. But he admitted he understands how the court could find the documentary troubling.
Yusuf said the program was on inside the halfway house's general gathering room, and he watched five to 10 minutes of it before walking away.
As Davis questioned him, Yusuf said he recognizes he's been given a chance to change his life and that he wants to take advantage of it. He said he feels shame and regret for what he used to believe and is "disgusted" that he wanted to join the Islamic State group.
"I'd rather believe in the tooth fairy than believe in that type of propaganda again," Yusuf said.
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