Abdullahi Yusuf, one of nine young men arrested in a sweeping FBI probe of ISIS recruitment in Minnesota, was released Thursday from a federal halfway house where he has been held since his November 2016 sentencing.
Yusuf, 21, cooperated with federal authorities during the investigation and was the first of nine co-defendants to become eligible for release.
He becomes one of only two Americans convicted of trying to join ISIS who have been allowed to return to society — albeit with intense federal supervision.
Escorted to the federal courthouse in Minneapolis Thursday morning by FBI agents, Yusuf left the building with his parents. He will return to their Burnsville home for the first time since his arrest three years ago.
“We’re just very glad to meet again our son,” Yusuf’s father, Sadiik Yusuf, told reporters after Thursday’s hearing. “We will be ready to help him.”
Terms of Yusuf’s release were granted Thursday morning by Senior U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, who oversaw last year’s landmark ISIS recruitment trial in Minneapolis.
At Thursday morning’s hearing, Davis closely questioned officials from the U.S. Probation Services office in Minnesota, including Yusuf’s probation officer, Eric Hermes.
Hermes testified that while in the halfway house, Yusuf earned his high school diploma and underwent counseling and mentoring and participated in community service. Yusuf has even become something of a role model for other residents, Hermes said, and recently gave up his own room for another resident who recently suffered a stroke.
“He continues to set goals for himself as he moves forward,” Hermes testified.
Before handing down his decision, Davis asked Yusuf: “Are you ready to come out? You understand that you’re going to have a lot of difficulties. You’re going to be ostracized by your own community — at least a certain part of it — you understand that?”
“Yes, your honor,” Yusuf replied.
In an emotional moment after they left the courtroom, Yusuf’s parents embraced the same FBI agents who arrested their son in 2014. They have said they believe that, by stopping him from leaving the country, the agents saved their son’s life.
Among the conditions set by Davis, Yusuf will be barred from social media and accessing materials related to Islamic terrorism. His internet use will be monitored and his movements will tracked via GPS for one year.
Yusuf must also meet with his probation officer to discuss his education and employment plans, which will require Davis’ approval. His release terms include a requirement that he either maintain employment or perform community service while looking for work.
“I’m really happy for Abdullahi,” Yusuf’s attorney, Manny Atwal, said in an interview Thursday. “I’ve known him now for three years and I can see the positive changes in him.”
Yusuf was the first of nine Twin Cities men arrested in 2014 and 2015 for their roles in attempting to follow multiple friends overseas to fight alongside ISIS militants.
It was Yusuf’s suspicious interview with a passport specialist, in April 2014, that touched off a yearlong investigation into the group as it made plans to travel to Turkey and cross into Syria.
The next month, FBI agents stopped Yusuf from boarding an Istanbul-bound flight at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Abdi Nur, a friend who was later charged in absentia, avoided FBI detection and left the country the next day. One of several Minnesotans confirmed to have joined ISIS, Nur is now believed dead.
Yusuf was also the subject of the nation’s first pretrial jihadi rehabilitation program, working with a mentor and civic engagement curriculum developed by the Minneapolis nonprofit Heartland Democracy.
Abdirizak Warsame, the only other defendant to cooperate with authorities in the case, is scheduled for release from an Illinois federal prison in March 2018.
Four other defendants, who pleaded guilty, received 10-year prison terms last year; three others, who fought the federal charges and were convicted after a weekslong trial, are serving 30- to 35-year sentences.
Federal agents and prosecutors alike have taken an interest in Yusuf’s rehabilitation, occasionally visiting him over the past year and sharing books with him. The federal prosecutors who led the government’s case raised no objections to Yusuf’s release on Thursday.
“Is there anything in the government’s eyes that through their investigation … he should not be released?” Davis asked.
“No, your honor, none whatsoever,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty.
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