Six Twin Cities men who pleaded guilty to trying to join the terror group ISIS were back in federal court Tuesday for two days of pre-sentencing hearings while a judge weighed whether they could be reformed.
"We are trying to figure out who these individuals are, and how to sentence them," U.S. District Judge Michael Davis said in court. "I have control of the individual when they go to prison and when they get out (supervised release). And we do have to have some type of program to keep our community safe."
Davis is setting up the country's first "terrorism disengagement and deradicalization program." In April, he asked an international counselor who specializes in reintegrating people radicalized by extremists such as neo-Nazis to assess the men who pleaded guilty: Abdullahi Yusuf, Zacharia Abdurahman, Hanad Musse, Abdirizak Warsame, Adnan Farah and Hamza Ahmed.
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"In comparing neo-Nazis to jihadists, the psychology, the mechanism is the same in all extremist movements," Daniel Koehler, director of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-Radicalization Studies, said in court. "It's narrowing down a world view, indoctrination... the driving factors can be different but the mechanism is the same."
After visiting with the men last spring, Koehler recommended mentoring and counseling for at least some of the defendants, according to briefs filed by their attorneys, although the specific recommendations have not been made public.
On Tuesday morning, Koehler spent several hours talking about his "qualitative assessment" approach, and how he evaluates extremism, or how likely a person is to be rehabilitated. In the afternoon, attorneys for the defendants and prosecutors began questioning Koehler and his methods.
The hearings are unprecedented for a terrorism case in the United States and could have a significant influence in the November sentencing. They face up to 15 years prison time.
Davis has said that Koehler's analysis would be "one of many factors" he'll consider when determining sentences.
MPR News reporter Laura Yuen contributed to this report.