MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Two men who left Minnesota to join the terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia were sentenced to three years in federal prison Tuesday, getting reduced sentences for their cooperation with the government's investigation into what has been called one of the largest efforts to recruit U.S. fighters into a foreign terror group.
Abdifatah Yusuf Isse and Salah Osman Ahmed both traveled to Somalia in 2007 and spent about a week in an al-Shabab training camp. They found a way to leave the camp once they learned what al-Shabab was all about.
They each pleaded guilty in 2009 to one count of providing material support to a terrorist group. They each faced a maximum of 15 years in prison. But prosecutors asked for sentences of around six to seven years because both cooperated with the investigation into recruiting and financing for al-Shabab.
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis gave the two men three years apiece, and they're expected to get credit for time served. Two other men convicted in the case were scheduled for sentencing later Tuesday, and three more people face sentencing later this week in this case and a case on terror financing.
Davis handed down two sentences in the long-running case on Monday. A man who authorities say played a key role in funneling young men from Minnesota to al-Shabab got 20 years in prison, while a foot soldier for al-Shabab, who participated in an ambush on Ethiopian troops, got 10 years.
"I'm going to take a chance on you," Davis told Isse when granting him a lesser sentence.
He pointed to Isse's decision to leave the al-Shabab training camp: "You devised a scheme to get away. That told me a lot about you. ... If you had been involved in the ambush, you'd be doing a lot of time."
Authorities say that more than 20 young men left Minnesota to join al-Shabab starting in 2007, when small groups of local Somalis began holding secret meetings to talk about returning to their homeland to wage jihad against Ethiopians. The Ethiopian army was brought into Somalia in 2006 by its weak U.N.-backed government, but the troops were viewed by many Somalis as invaders.
Davis, who has overseen these cases for years, said he still struggles to understand what would make young men from good families, who came to Minnesota as refugees, choose to return to violence.
"We have to figure out what's going on and try to make sure this never happens again," he said.
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