A federal judge has denied bail to three men charged with conspiring to flee the country to fight alongside terrorists in Syria, but said he would reconsider in two months.
In three separate hearings, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis said he would need more time to determine whether "deradicalization" strategies to integrate the young men back into their communities would be effective.
He said he would wait until September to revisit possible pretrial release for Hamza Ahmed, Zacharia Abdurahman and Hanad Musse, who are among more than a dozen men charged with conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL.) In the meantime, he encouraged the defendants not to be disheartened.
"I'm not going to allow anyone at the first juncture to go home. That's a non-starter," Davis told Musse during the final hearing. "This is way too important to treat as a regular criminal case. It has a dynamic to it that we have to address, and hopefully we can."
Lawyers for the three acknowledged that the reintegration plans for the young men — which included religious study at their mosques, volunteer work and re-enrolling in college classes — were a novel approach. Ahmed's plan, his attorney JaneAnne Murray said, is based on a guiding model across the world that "discourages extremist activities."
Murray said that although showing repentance is not a requirement of pretrial release, Ahmed has already met several times with a local Sheikh at the Sherburne County jail, where he and the other defendants are being held. Davis countered that, when it comes to repentance, "the program for deradicalization is exactly that."
Abdurahman's attorney, Jon Hopeman, said his client comes from a Sufi background — a branch of Islam that turns its back on violence. Abdurahman, he said, is no would-be terrorist.
"My impression of him is not that he is radicalized," he said. "My impression is that he is very young. Even for 19, he is very, very young."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter countered that the organizations that stood in support of the men were well-intentioned, but that there were no proposals substantial enough to cover the risk at hand. "We recognize there are plenty of people who are well-meaning and interested in helping this person make changes, but this is not the time for that," Winter said in opposition to Ahmed's release. "The risk is too high."
Musse's attorney, Andrew Birrell, described Musse as a regular kid, "American through and through" who plays video games and eats McDonald's — not a would-be terrorist.
"There appears to be a growing concept that he is the enemy," Birrell said. "He is not the enemy."
The young men smiled and acknowledged their families, and showed little open disappointment at Davis' ruling.
Davis said that despite his denial, covering new ground when it comes to deradicalization will be crucial, regardless of whether the defendants are convicted. Davis noted that he has studied efforts in other countries like Saudi Arabia.
"If we can do something on the front end … that's a worthy goal," he said.