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After prison, will Minnesota’s ISIS defendants come out better or worse?



Stephen Montemayor

Zacharia Abdurahman is seven months into a 10-year term at the federal prison in Sandstone, Minn., sentenced last fall with eight other young Twin Cities men for conspiring to join the terrorist group ISIS.

Although he’s 90 miles away, his father, Yusuf, works hard to make sure the two don’t grow worlds apart — sending him weekly motivational messages and trading book recommendations. “He’s getting wiser,” Yusuf Abdurahman said. “More thoughtful.”

But it’s a process the 21-year-old Zacharia is undergoing without much help from the federal prison system. Abdurahman is one of roughly 460 federal inmates considered extremists by prison officials. But like the rest, he gets no targeted services to unpack what attracted him to terrorism and guide him away from extremist views, according to Minnesota judges and parole authorities who have watched the federal cases.

For months, officials in Minnesota have complained that federal prisons could become a breeding ground for terror in the absence of tailored programming for these young convicts, and now federal investigators are analyzing the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ approach to deradicalization.

“When they come out, we’ve got to supervise them,” Chief U.S. District Judge John Tunheim said in an interview. “You don’t want to have them come back from prison worse than when you sent them.”

Some of the loudest protests have come from federal law enforcement officials in Minnesota because they’ll be responsible as the young men and women start coming home after prison sentences in terror cases. The state has seen more than 30 defendants charged in Al-Shabab and ISIS-related cases in the past decade. About 10 are now out of prison on supervision, with several more expected in the next year.

“The biggest concern for us is the piece the [Bureau of Prisons] plays, because that is the longest period of time for all this,” Chief U.S. Probation Officer Kevin Lowry said. “If there’s no programming and then they come out … it will be just short of impossible maybe to turn them around.”

Yusuf Abdurahman sending his imprisoned son Zacharia weekly motivational messages and trading book recommendations. “He’s getting wiser,” Yusuf Abdurahman said. “More thoughtful.”

Lowry’s office is leading a program introduced last year, initially to evaluate some of the nine young men convicted in the ISIS investigation. The district contracted with Daniel Koehler, a German expert on radicalization, who has worked with both neo-Nazis and jihadists, and has since trained 11 of Minnesota’s 50 federal probation officers. Koehler has also helped the office instruct law enforcement from nine other districts — and the Bureau of Prisons — since last spring.

But Minnesota’s program handles cases only from the time of arrest to sentencing, and again only after the offender has been released from prison. That leaves the intervening years “a black box” that could raise the risk of deeper radicalization, Koehler has said.

“When there is nothing, no counseling in place, no psychologists or prison imams or anyone who can challenge the beliefs or even assess the radicalization stage … there’s nothing that actually prevents them from spreading their thoughts,” Koehler testified at a Minneapolis hearing last year.

Justin Long, a federal prisons spokesman, said the agency monitors “all telephonic communication of inmates” linked to terrorism and shares intelligence with agencies like the FBI. But the bureau hasn’t departed from its traditional approach — programs like vocational training or substance abuse treatment, he said.

“In this case, that’s a shortcoming,” said Matthew Levitt, a fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In March, the think tank urged the Trump administration to adopt “full-fledged rehabilitation and reintegration programs” for radicalized inmates. “Programs in prisons would focus on contesting violent extremist narratives and promoting the idea that there are ways — certainly in the U.S. — of challenging policies with which one disagrees short of supporting or engaging in violence.”

In May, the Office of the Inspector General opened an audit of the Bureau of Prisons’ “counterterrorism efforts” for inmates who are due to be released from prison within the next few years.

The probe began after U.S. security officials issued a bulletin that predicted that some of the more than 90 people serving terror sentences who are expected released within five years “will probably re-engage in terrorist activity.”

Lowry says federal prison officials initially balked at creating programs for extremists because they represent a small portion of the U.S. federal prison population. About 360 inmates have ties to international terrorism and 100 are domestic extremists, he said.

But, Lowry added, “the most unacceptable answer I think is doing nothing — which comes with the greatest liability in life.”

Minnesota officials do, however, say the bureau is now paying more attention.

Prison staff attended a May training event brokered by Minnesota and led by the United Kingdom’s National Offender Management Service (NOMS), which has been developing intervention programming for about a decade.

NOMS works one-on-one with inmates in what it calls “Healthy Identity Interventions” and last month in Minneapolis explained the tailored counseling it gives extremists, such as deconstructing the ideology behind their crimes. Other sessions examine how inmates can begin to make new commitments in life or re-establish old relationships once abandoned.

Long, the bureau’s spokesman, said prison officials appreciated the training and that his agency “is committed to exploring evidence-based practices in understanding the factors that lead an individual to involvement in violent extremist activity.”

Last month, Yusuf Abdurahman drove up to the Sandstone prison to visit his son for Father’s Day.

Zacharia told him that he and his fellow Muslim inmates are now the only religious group without a chaplain, after an imam was forced out by a small coterie of more extreme inmates. Yusuf is now working to get a Minneapolis imam approved to begin visiting the prison.

Zacharia, meanwhile, keeps himself busy by reading and helping other inmates explore basic Islamic textbooks, Yusuf Abdurahman said. Beyond being a connection to the outside world for his son, Yusuf Abdurahman also occasionally lends help interpreting certain religious texts or rulings.

“If nothing happens in the prisons,” Abdurahman said, “some inmates may think, ‘Maybe I did come here because an informant recruited us.’ You then believe you’re in prison not because of what you did but because of your faith.”

Twitter: @smontemayor


Rep. Ellison, Rep. Emmer, and Colleagues Introduce Resolution Condemning Terror Attack in Mogadishu



WASHINGTON — On the one-month anniversary of the October 14th terror attack on Mogadishu, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), along with Reps. Steve Stivers (R-OH), Karen Bass (D-CA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Erik Paulsen (R-MN), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), and Denny Heck (D-WA) introduced House Resolution 620, which condemns the attack, expresses sympathy for its victims and their families, and reaffirms U.S. support for Somalia.

The October 14th terror attack killed more than 350 people, including three American citizens, and injured another 200—making it the single deadliest in Somalia’s history.

“It’s been a month since the terrible and cowardly attack on Mogadishu, and my heart still breaks for the people of Somalia and their families and friends here in the United States,” Ellison said. “The people of Somalia have shown incredible resilience— coming together not only as part of an inspiring effort to recover from this attack, but also to rebuild their nation in the spirit of peace and prosperity. I am proud to stand with my colleagues to express solidarity with the people of Somalia by strongly condemning the senseless violence, extending our condolences to all those affected by the attack, and reaffirming continued U.S. support for Somalia.”

“Just over a month ago, Mogadishu experienced a horrific and tragic terrorist attack,” said Emmer. “This attack hit close to home with three of our fellow Americans – including one Minnesotan – among the more than 350 men, women and children who lost their lives far too soon. I stand with my colleagues and the Somali community to condemn last month’s attack. I am proud to work with my colleagues to offer condolences and lend support as Somalia works to rebuild itself and its communities in the wake of this recent tragedy. Today, and every day, we stand against terror and join together to rid this world of evil.”
The full text of the resolution reads as follows:

“Strongly condemning the terrorist attack in Mogadishu, Somalia on October 14, 2017, and expressing condolences and sympathies to the victims of the attack and their families.

Whereas on October 14, 2017, a truck bomb filled with military grade and homemade explosives detonated at a busy intersection in the center of Mogadishu, Somalia, and took the lives of more than 350 people and injured more than 200 additional people;

Whereas at least three Americans, Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow, Mohamoud Elmi, and Abukar Dahie, were killed in the attack;

Whereas the Somali Government believes that Al-Shabaab was responsible for the attack, although no official claims of responsibility have yet been made;

Whereas Al-Shabaab has previously avoided claiming responsibility for Al Shabaab operations when it believes the operation may significantly damage its public image among Somalis;

Whereas the Department of State condemned ‘‘in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks that killed and injured hundreds in Mogadishu on October 14’’;

Whereas the Department of State stated that ‘‘the United States will continue to stand with the Somali government, its people, and our international allies to combat terrorism and support their efforts to achieve peace, security, and prosperity’’;

Whereas according to the Department of State’s Country Report on Terrorism for 2016, Al-Shabaab is the most potent threat to regional stability in East Africa;

Whereas the United States continues to support counterterrorism efforts in coordination with the Government of Somalia, international partners, and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) mainly through capacity building programs, advise and assist missions, and intelligence support;

Whereas Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, declared three days of national mourning in response to the attack;

Whereas the vibrant, bustling district of Mogadishu where the attack occurred is characteristic of the city’s revitalization, and the solidarity and efforts by the city’s residents to rebuild already are a testament to their resilience; and

Whereas Somalia has been a strong partner to the United States: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

(1) strongly condemns the terrorist attack in Mogadishu, Somalia on October 14, 2017;

(2) expresses its heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies for the victims of the attack and their families;

(3) honors the memories of Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow, Mohamoud Elmi, and Abukar Dahie, who were murdered in the horrific terrorist attack;

(4) recognizes the significant efforts to combat terrorism by the Government of Somalia, the countries contributing troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia, and United States forces in Somalia;

(5) reaffirms United States support for the Government of Somalia’s efforts to achieve peace, security, and prosperity and combat terrorism in Somalia; and

(6) renews the solidarity of the people and Government of the United States with the people and Government of Somalia.”

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Fartun Ahmed is first Somali-American woman elected to a school board in the country



LAKESHORE WEEKLY — HOPKINS — Fartun Ahmed was elected to Hopkins school board Tuesday Nov. 7, making her the first Somali woman in the country to be elected to a school board and the second to be elected to public office.

She campaigned as part of a bloc with Chris LaTondresse and Jen Westmoreland-Bouchard under the message that every family in the school district should be able to access the resources they need to understand the system.

Campaigning against Steve Semler and Kevin Bennett, the bloc won the three open seats. Turnout was nearby double that of two years ago — 21,501 people voted for school board candidates in this year’s election; 12,159 votes were cast in 2015.

“It shows our district is ready to move forward,” Ahmed said. “It shows our district is open to connecting and engaging with someone despite the differences they may have.”

The three campaigned as a tight ensemble. They door-knocked every weekend in October, met with students and attended school board meetings. Neighborhoods even organized gatherings to meet the candidates.

People frequently recognized who they were upon opening the door, Barb Westmoreland said. Westmoreland is the mother of board member-elect Westmoreland-Bouchard. She described how Fartun felt after a day of door-knocking:

“For many of these people, they just had a lot of questions. They were really curious; they wanted to talk with a Muslim woman who wears a hijab,” Westmoreland said.

Ahmed, 26, was born in Somalia and moved to the United States when she was 3. With her family, she moved around Minnesota for a while before settling in Hopkins. As the oldest of eight children, Ahmed was the first in her immediate family to attend school.

She finished high school in 2009 with a GPA of 4.0 and moved on to study at Metropolitan State University. During her undergraduate years, Ahmed was appointed to committees formed by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger. Later, she obtained a full-ride dual masters from the University of Chicago.

“She’s a standard bearer for her family,” Westmoreland said. “First one to go to college, she has a master’s degree … for her to come back to this community and say ‘I really want to be a part of it and I want to make it better,’ I just admire her so much for these values.”

Ahmed is grateful for Hopkins Schools and the resources the district provided for her family when she entered schools, she said.

“It shows you what America is that my parents — who had no idea, who had never went to school, who don’t even know how to read or write in Somali — can raise this daughter who can be elected to a political position in an office,” she said, “and that’s what America is.”

However, despite the district’s efforts, the resources at hand right now don’t match the need for the 45 percent who are students of color, Ahmed said.

Working as an executive director at her family’s Family Resource and Childcare Center gave her insight. Family after family came in, addled in trying to navigate the school system. Many families with whom she spoke changed their minds to stay in Hopkins, but others left to open-enroll in neighboring districts.

Leaders in the community should understand the issues varying community members are facing, Ahmed said.

On the day before the election, Ahmed’s 8-year-old sister wrote her a letter for good luck, saying she looks up to her oldest sister.

“I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m doing this is because I want her to grow up in a community where she knows her leaders and people will listen to her and people will respect her,” Ahmed said.

The campaign results proved that people underestimate their own community, she said. Hopkins was ready for leaders in public office who reflected a cross-section of the community.

Westmoreland said the relationships the trio formed with voters throughout the past several months will propel them into office.

“I feel a great sense of hope,” Westmoreland said, “and I think a lot of other people do, too. Everybody’s looking for goodness in our own community, that we really want to work together to make sure everyone’s life here is good and going well.”

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Scared liar Alex Jones: U.S. has ‘colonized Minnesota with Somalis’ [VIDEO]



CITY PAGES — On Monday, legendary Hollywood shitheel James Woods tweeted a video depicting Somalis at the Mall of America.

Are these things connected?


This we learned from a nine-minute clip from Alex Jones, a disturbingly popular conspiracist who has never let the fact that everything he says is a lie detract from the fact that it would be scary if it was true.

After showing the same clip James Woods had posted, Jones begins: “Mall of America yesterday…”

Wrong. The video’s timing is unclear, but it was almost certainly taken during Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday which many Somali Minnesotans celebrate with a trip to the Mall of America. This year, Eid al-Adha fell on August 31 and September 1, which is only “yesterday” if you, like Alex Jones, have been awake for the last 10 weeks.

Here’s an NPR story (from 2006) about why Muslims go to the mall to celebrate Eid.

Hold us, we’re scared.

Ahem. Continue, Alex.

“Mall of America yesterday was about 95 percent Somali…”

Wrong. This one small part of the Mall of America (the Nickelodeon Universe) appears to be heavily Somali or East African… during a very brief clip… recorded, again, on a day when Muslims traditionally gather at the mall. The Mall of America is enormous, though: 500-something stores spread out over 4.9 million square feet of space.

This video shows a couple hundred people. The Mall of America averages more than 100,000 visitors a day. Most are white.

Anyway, sorry to cut you off again Alex, continue.

“Mall of America yesterday was about 95 percent Somali. Now, that’s the main area where they’ve been resettling for 40-plus years…”

Wrong. The vast majority of Somali-Americans emigrated to the United States (and Minnesota, specifically) as refugees from a civil war … during the 1990s. That’s not 40 years ago.

OK, sorry Alex. Proceed.

“Now, that’s the main area where they’ve been resettling for 40-plus years. The U.S. Government has been bringing Muslims in, from the most suppressive, most radical Muslim nation…”

Wrong. Those are subjective assertions to begin with, but, while Somalia is essentially tied for dead last in freedoms, it’s down there with countries — Saudia Arabia, Yemen — the U.S. considers its allies.

As for “most radical,” Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan — again, all U.S. allies — suffer more terrorist attacks than Somalia. And most terrorists or would-be terrorists who target America are from… America.

OK Alex, go on.

“The U.S. Government has been bringing Muslims in, from the most suppressive, radical Muslim nation, where women are sold at slave auctions to this day…”

Not wrong, per se, but misleading as hell. Jones is almost certainly referring to sex slavery as practiced by Al-Shabaab militants, a group which consists of maybe 9,000 people — in a country of 14 million.

The way Jones phrases it makes it sound like slave auctions in Somalia are sanctioned, and happening everywhere, all the time. It’d be like describing the United States as a “nation where people get shot at country music concerts,” or a “nation where people live in St. Cloud, Minnesota.”

Is there… more?

“The U.S. Government has been bringing Muslims in, from the most suppressive, radical Muslim nation, where women are sold at slave auctions to this day. It has the highest murder rate in the world…”


“It has the highest murder rate in the world, and women are seen as, basically, animals. Now, our government, as part of the diversity VISA program, has colonized Minnesota with Somalis.”

Oh, fuck this. This is going to take all day. Imagine how exhausting it would be if the people who watch Alex Jones — or feed this hokum into his teleprompter — cared whether what he said was even remotely true.

You can watch this clip if you want, but please, go in knowing virtually every single thing in Jones says is either provably incorrrect, or has been twisted beyond recognition into something pointy, which he then waves right in front of his terrified viewers’ bug-eyes. At one point Jones starts talking about “drag queen festivals.” At another, he calls Abdiraham — Jones calls him “Adderdam” (wrong), then “Abababa” (wrong) — “our new Somali God.” Then he says the word “zero” 16 times in a row. It’s… well, it’s pretty much like every other Alex Jones clip.

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