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Three Somali-Americans Sentenced in Minnesota for Plotting to Join Islamic State Terrorist Group

The harshest sentence was given to Zacharia Abdurahman, who got 10 years in prison

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FILE - Militants of the Islamic State group hold up their weapons and wave flags on their vehicles in a convoy on a road leading to Iraq, while riding in Raqqa, Syria. VOA
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Minnesota, Nov 14, 2016: A U.S. judge in Minnesota has given jail time to three Somali-Americans found guilty of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State, but rewarded two of them with lighter sentences for cooperating with the government.

The harshest sentence was given to Zacharia Abdurahman, who got 10 years in prison. Abdurahman pleaded guilty but did not cooperate with the U.S. government against his friends, who also plotted to join Islamic State.

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FILE - Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, VOA
FILE – Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman, VOA

The prosecution wanted 15 years in prison for Abdurahman, who broke down in court. The judge, Michael Davis, made it clear that Abdurahman received the toughest sentence because he did not testify against his former co-conspirators.

Abdurahman was stopped at JFK International Airport in New York in 2014 while attempting to travel to Greece on his way to Syria to join Islamic State. The following year, he was involved in a second attempt to travel to Syria.

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Also sentenced Monday was Abdirazak Warsame and Abdullahi Yusuf, both of whom cooperated with the U.S. government. Warsame received 30 months in prison, while Yusuf was released for time served in prison — the 21 months he already had been in jail. Both testified against their former friends.

Warsame was accused of planning to travel first to Somalia and then to Syria. He also was accused of encouraging others to travel to Syria, including Yusuf.

FILE - Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame, VOA
FILE – Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame, VOA

The judge said he believed Warsame’s cooperation with authorities was a matter of convenience, while Yusuf’s cooperation was more believable. He said it wouldn’t make sense to send Yusuf to prison for longer because the government would miss a chance to help him. Davis said he hoped to see Yusuf rehabilitated.

Yusuf reportedly told the judge after the sentence was read, “I won’t let you down, your honor.” His family expressed relief after the sentencing.

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Minnesota prosecutor Andrew Luger said in a statement Monday, “The hard work of rehabilitating those who seek to engage in ideological violence must continue. Judge Davis recognized that fact today in his considered sentences for those defendants who cooperated with the government and have begun to disengage from ISIL’s violent ideology.”

Six other men are awaiting sentencing in the Islamic State-related terrorism case. Prosecutors have recommended the longest sentence — 40 years — for Guled Omar, one of three men who went on trial and was convicted by a jury.

On Sunday night, the parents of the defendants held prayers and a healing service at a mosque in Minneapolis, hoping for leniency from the judge. (VOA)

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Emergence of Radical Political Groups Raises Concern in Pakistan

Concerns are being voiced about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

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Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
  • Tension in Pakistan increasing due to emergence of Radical Political Groups.
  • Extremist groups are gaining a footing in Country’s politics.
  • According to reports, goverment’s efforts are not enough to stop the emerging radicalism in Pakistan.

Concerns are being voiced in Pakistan about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

Taj Haider, one of the prominent and founding members of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has been in power five times since 1970, told VOA the country is again seeing the trend of extremist groups camouflaging themselves to enter into politics.

“Religion and politics cannot go hand in hand, but unfortunately this is our new reality. We have seen the recent by-elections in Lahore and Peshawar where militant-turned-political parties were able to mobilize people and gather votes,” Haider said. “And these so-called new political parties, with proven terror records, look determined to contest the upcoming elections in 2018.”

In a recent high-level party meeting presided by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Pakistan’s slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the government was sharply criticized on its inability to forcefully implement the National Action Plan and bar proscribed groups from entering the political sphere.

The National Action Plan is a 20-point strategy devised to combat extremism in 2015 that clearly states no banned groups can operate in the country by changing their names or identity.

Analysts say many other political parties are also agitated and wary about the recent political dynamic that has allowed radicalized groups to enter the political arena.

“The government has repeatedly said it will not allow the hardliners to enter into politics, but the reality is different, these parties are going into masses,” Rasul Baksh Raees, a prominent analyst from Pakistan told VOA.

“As long as these proscribed groups stick to their extreme ideologies and violence, they will be a danger to the society and democracy itself.”

Hafiz Saeed
Hafiz Saeed, head of the Pakistani religious party. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

PPP’s acute criticism came as Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), inaugurated the office of his newly launched political party Milli Muslim League (MML) in the eastern city of Lahore.

Pakistan’s Election Commission rejected MML’s party registration application in October, citing its link to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a U.S. designated terror-sponsoring organization.

But MML looks determined to contest the upcoming state and provincial elections. The party has several offices, has launched a website, and has a social media team spreading its messages through Facebook and Twitter.

Pakistan’s government has repeatedly emphasized it will not tolerate any political party with a proven record of promoting violence and terrorism to use democracy and political means to spread their extreme ideologies.

But critics still say the government is not doing enough to stop radical groups from entering politics.

“Look what happened in Lahore’s recent by-election and who can forget the power show by extremists on the roads of Islamabad. The government was totally helpless,” Raees said.

During the Lahore election in September, a MML backed independent candidate secured the fourth position in the race. The by-election was also contested by Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TeL), another extremist religious party created to carry-on Mumtaz Qadri’s mission, the bodyguard who killed Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer in 2011 after he had demanded reforms in the controversial blasphemy law. Mumtaz Qadri was later sentenced to death.

Islamic Extremists
Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party (VOA)

In November, thousands of followers of the Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labaik blocked Islamabad roads for weeks and demanded the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, after accusing him of blasphemy. The government eventually surrendered to hardliners’ demands after Pakistan’s military played the role of mediator.

The experts say the emerging trend of politicizing militancy is a danger to democracy. They also point out the sectarian and hardline rationale will further complicate the situation in the country that has been trying to combat terrorism for more than a decade.

“Imagine when these hardliners, through political parties, will spread their extreme views on the grassroots level. What will be the future of this country?” Raees said.

But some politicians dismiss the blending of radicalized groups into politics. Haider believes the people of Pakistan can differentiate between politicians and extremists and will not allow militant-turned-politicians to thrive.

“If you look at the past, the religious parties including the Jamaat-i-Islami [an old religious party], despite having a huge following, were never able to clean sweep or get majority in the electoral process of the country,” said Haider.

“Even now, with all these efforts, I believe Milli Muslim League or Tehreek-e-Labaik will not be able to pull large numbers during the general elections. Religious or sectarian votes are scattered in the country and can’t be unified and will not help these newly established political parties to win a prominent number of seats.” VOA