A Model For De-Radicalization In Minneapolis
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
A White House conference that ended today was about trying to prevent people from joining militant groups like ISIS. There's also the question of what to do with ISIS followers after they've tried to join the group, people like an 18-year-old Minnesota man named Abdullahi Yusuf.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We heard about him on the program yesterday. He was arrested for attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS. Now he's at the center of an experiment in Minnesota.
MCEVERS: A federal judge decided that while he awaits trial, Yusuf should receive counseling to counter ISIS propaganda. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston visited Minneapolis and has our report.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Run down a list of Abdullahi Yusuf's achievements and you'd be hard-pressed to spot him as a candidate for terrorist recruiters. He used to joke that he wanted to become a lawyer. He loved math. And he was on his high school football team, something Sidik Yusuf, his father, is happy to talk about.
SIDIK YUSUF: Football - American football.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Here he speaks through an interpreter.
SIDIK YUSUF: (Through interpreter) He was a member in the high school football.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And were you worried when he was playing football?
SIDIK YUSUF: (Through interpreter) Yes, I worried. He was a very skinny kid, but he was playing with big heavy-duty guys. That's why I was worried, in case he might get hurt.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Now instead of playing football, Abdullahi Yusuf is awaiting trial on terrorism charges. He's one of more than a dozen people with links to the Twin Cities who have either gone to Syria or tried to go in the past 15 months. And that number is expected to grow. That could explain why district court judge Michael Davis decided to take a chance and told Yusuf's lawyers he would release their client to a halfway house, rather than have him await trial in jail, if he got counseling.
JEAN BRANDL: It was a big risk for Judge Davis to let him out, and he's doing so in incremental stages.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Jean Brandl is one of Yusuf's lawyers.
BRANDL: I cannot tell you why the judge would've taken a chance. But what I feel is that there doesn't seem to be a stop to young people going overseas to join terrorist organizations. And I think everyone wants to see it stop.
TEMPLE-RASTON: I arranged to meet the person who's supposed to try to make it stop. Her name is Mary McKinley and we met at the Brian Coyle Community Center in East Minneapolis, a hangout for local Somali kids.
Hi, I'm Dina.
MARY MCKINLEY: Hi Dina.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Nice to meet you.
MCKINLEY: Nice to meet you too.
TEMPLE-RASTON: McKinley is the executive director of Heartland Democracy, a small nonprofit organization leading the effort to build a counseling program for Yusuf.
MCKINLEY: We were approached by his attorneys. They knew that we had worked with Somali-American teens in the past.
TEMPLE-RASTON: McKinley is going to try to take an existing program called Empowering You and adapt it for Minneapolis's large Somali community. The idea is to make disaffected young people and their parents feel more connected, to each other and to their communities.
MCKINLEY: They're living in two worlds. We hope that we can find tools to help them do that - because they don't want to not be Somali.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Young people complain about the difficulty of living like Americans during the day, but being expected to act Somali when they come home at night. Some of the kids who came to this country when they were little speak English, but almost no Somali. Their parents speak Somali, but very little English. That makes communication, never easy with teenagers, that much harder. What's more, in this community everyday things are hard - school forms, transportation, finding work. Again, Mary McKinley.
MCKINLEY: Somali-American parents are figuring out their lives like all of us, but they're also trying to figure out a completely new culture and a completely new system.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Sarah Yusuf is Abdullahi Yusuf's mother. She's trying to figure out what happened to her son. Almost as soon as she started talking about him she began to cry, and her husband tried to comfort her.
She spoke through an interpreter.
SARAH YUSUF: (Through interpreter) Because he touched to my emotion, my son. He'd always say to me, mom, how are you? How are you doing? He never raised his voice on me. He respected me. He was a calm and quiet boy.
TEMPLE-RASTON: In other words, not someone who you would have predicted would consider joining ISIS. The question is now that Abdullahi Yusuf has crossed that line, can he be brought back? The program being developed for him now may end up becoming America's first de-radicalization program, something to turn to when countering violent extremism efforts fall short. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, Minneapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.