A federal court in Minnesota has launched an unprecedented program to weigh the menace posed by terrorism defendants and develop plans to deradicalize them so they do not commit similar crimes in the future.
The program is part of efforts to try to reintegrate terrorism defendants into society when they are deemed eligible to be released back into U.S. communities by federal judges.
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, who has tried recent terrorism cases in Minnesota and has been at the forefront of reintegration efforts, described the program as the first of its kind in the United States, according to the Associated Press (AP).
“It initially will be applied to four men who have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to the Islamic State [ISIS/ISIL] group, and Davis said it could be expanded to other terror defendants, including those being released from prison and re-entering society,” explains AP.
“We are being proactive in trying to protect and serve the community,” said the U.S. district judge.
Last year, Davis allowed a terrorism defendant to go to a halfway house on pretrial release under a plan that allowed him to work with a group that encourages civic involvement.
However, the defendant, who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges, was ordered back into custody after a box cutter was discovered under his bed.
Davis indicated that the latest program is different from what he has employed in the past, adding that he will provide the terrorism defendant who was ordered back into custody more information during sentencing.
“When you are dealing with extremism, and you start to talk to people, it just does not compute,” proclaimed the judge. “It doesn’t make sense why someone who has never been involved in any type of criminal activity and is not seriously religious (would), in a very short period of time, want to go over and be involved in jihad.”
“There’s no 100 percent guarantee that these intervention methods actually work,” noted Daniel Koehler, the director of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-radicalization Studies, who is helping Davis with the reintegration program. “But I think it’s better than working blindfolded without any kind of assessment or structure or protocol.”
AP reports that Koehler has spearheaded training on deradicalization and intervention programs in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
About a dozen Minnesota residents have traveled to Syria to join militant groups in recent years, and more than 22 men from Minnesota’s Somali community have left 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.
The men are friends who recruited and inspired each other to join ISIS, according to prosecutors.
Koehler will conduct risk assessments on the four men who have pleaded guilty and will offer recommendations for deradicalizing each one. The purpose of that evaluation — on top of a standard pre-sentencing investigation — is to give Davis more information as he determines their sentences. Koehler will then train U.S. probation and pretrial officers, who will be responsible for supervising the defendants.
The four defendants have the option to decline the evaluation.
“Attorneys for Abdurahman and Warsame said they learned of the program Wednesday and planned to study it more before taking a position,” points out AP.
“Manny Atwal, an attorney for Yusuf, said Koehler will be assessing the men to see if they are amenable to treatment, and while it may not be the perfect answer, right now ‘we don’t have anything — and this is the best option we have,’” it adds.
U.S. Attorney Andy Luger has reportedly expressed support for the initiative, calling it, “one important step to address terror recruiting.”
AP quotes Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, as saying, “Defense attorneys and law enforcement officials will be watching and the plan could become a model for others.”
“There is a tremendous hunger across the nation for something as an alternative to just harsh measures meted out by law enforcement,” she declared.
To determine a defendant’s ideology and evaluate risks, Koehler said he employs various tools.
“He said he will assess the defendants, explain his views on possible reasons for their radicalization and say what may work in terms of intervention,” notes AP. “His assessments will include interviews with family members and friends.”