A 20-year-old Eagan, Minn., man could become the second person to enter the country's only jihadi rehab program.
Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to provide material support to the Islamic State, and while he awaits sentencing, three sources familiar with the case tell NPR that he is likely to join a defendant named Abdullahi Yusuf in the emerging de-radicalization program in the Twin Cities.
Until recently, U.S. counterterrorism officials had seen building a curriculum to defuse extremist ideology as unnecessary — there weren't enough young men and women seeking to join terrorist organizations to make rehabilitation a priority. Instead, incarceration seemed like enough of an answer.
The Islamic State's incredible hold on young Muslims in America has changed all that. Dozens of young men and women from the Twin Cities area have either tried to travel to Syria to join ISIS or have been arrested while seeking to do so.
That's what happened in the Warsame case. According to his plea agreement, throughout 2014 he and a group of his friends got together to discuss going to Syria to join ISIS. They talked about pooling funds to pay for the plane tickets and potential routes from Minnesota to Syria, the plea says. Warsame admitted to applying for an expedited passport to travel overseas to join the terrorist group. He also admitted that he was the leader, or "emir," of the group of ISIS travelers and said he had been in contact with someone who was in Syria fighting for ISIS to plan the trip.
"ISIL recruiting in Minnesota is an ongoing problem," said U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger in a statement. "Federal law enforcement and our local partners remain dedicated to ending terror recruitment in our state. One of the important factors we believe will help stop the recruiting pipeline is for those who have been charged to take responsibility for their crimes. I am encouraged that today Mr. Warsame is doing just that. He has now taken the first step to help himself begin the process of rehabilitation and help our entire community begin to heal."
Luger's statement hints at what is likely to happen next for Warsame. A nonprofit organization called Heartland Democracy has been building a curriculum for Yusuf, the only other young man in the jihadi rehab program. The group has only just started helping with terrorism offenders, but in the past it has worked with "turnarounds," people who are in the criminal justice system for one reason or another who want to get their lives back on track.
There are a number of international programs that are seeking to do the same thing, working with young men and women who are attracted by the romance and adventure of jihad. In Denmark, mothers in Odense are trying to turn kids around before they radicalize. Germany has a hotline for families so they can get professional help to prevent their children from traveling to Syria to join ISIS.
It is unclear when Warsame might take the next step and start meeting with Heartland Democracy counselors. The judge in his case will have to approve any rehab program before it can start.