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ISIS Supporter Moved To Jail After Box Cutter Found In His Halfway House Room

There's been a setback for a Minnesota man who had been a test case for deradicalization in this country.

Abdullahi Yusuf, 19, had pleaded guilty to charges that he intended to travel to Syria to join the self-proclaimed Islamic State, but earlier this year Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis released him to a halfway house so that he could receive counseling while he awaited sentencing. A new court filing reveals that Yusuf was moved from the halfway house back to jail in late April — after officials at the halfway house found a box cutter in the room he shared with three other men.

Yusuf is the only Minneapolis man linked to ISIS who has been allowed to be part of the fledgling deradicalization program now going on in the Twin Cities.

Minneapolis is home to the nation's largest Somali-American community and it has dealt with radicalization in the past. More than two dozen young men left Minnesota to join al-Shabab, a Somali group linked to al-Qaida, 10 years ago.

Now they are leaving for Syria, goaded to action by some of the young men who went to Somalia to fight five and 10 years ago. The fact that the recruitment is happening here, again, has helped focus law enforcement's attention on new solutions aimed at blunting attempts to radicalize local youth.

Three other ISIS suspects in the Twin Cities are expected to ask a judge to allow them to make alternate arrangements while they await trials. One of them, Hanad Musse, wants to live with an aunt under restrictions that would include no cellphone or Internet use. Community leaders say they will ensure that he takes classes at a local college and joins a basketball league. It is unclear whether some sort of deradicalization program is part of his release plan as well.

The question looming, in the wake of this week's revelation about the box cutter, is whether there is still an appetite to test new solutions as some of the local ISIS cases take shape.

Abdullahi Yusuf admitted having tried to leave Minneapolis for Syria, and pleaded guilty in February to one count of conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization. He faces up to 15 years in prison. Yusuf has said that he attended meetings in Minneapolis in the spring of 2014 in which young men from the community discussed fighting in Syria. Dozens of members of the Minnesota Somali community are thought to have either traveled to Syria or have attempted to do so in the past two years.

Yusuf was in high school and attracted law enforcement's attention when he applied for an expedited passport right after his 18th birthday but had trouble telling the passport officer where he planned to travel. The FBI stopped him at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on May 28, 2014. He was arrested six months later.

What made his case different was that he tried to leave before ISIS had become so publicly associated with wanton violence. The beheading of James Foley, for example, hadn't yet happened when Yusuf and some of his friends decided to travel. That may be part of the reason officials decided to take a chance on him and he was allowed to stay at the halfway house to participate in a deradicalization program.

So far that regime has included, among other things, readings from Martin Luther King, the Founding Fathers and Malcolm X. The idea is to get Yusuf to understand how he fits into the Twin Cities community rather than feeling he is isolated from it. ISIS recruiters play upon a young Muslim's feeling of isolation in the West. Yusuf, through his lawyer, said that he had nothing to do with the box cutter and an investigation into how it came to be in his room is continuing.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.