Minnesota man tells judge, ‘I am a terrorist,’ gets 10 years

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man told a judge on Tuesday that he was a terrorist — then was sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiring to join the Islamic State group in Syria.

Hanad Musse, 21, is one of nine friends in Minnesota’s large Somali community who are being sentenced this week for conspiring to join the militant group. Earlier Tuesday one of his co-defendants, Hamza Ahmed, received 15 years on charges connected to the plot.

Before he was sentenced, Musse apologized for lying to his family and acknowledged that he committed a serious offense. The judge asked Musse directly whether he was a terrorist, and Musse replied: “I am a terrorist, your honor.”

Musse, Ahmed and two other men took a Greyhound bus from Minneapolis to New York in November 2014 and were stopped by federal agents as they tried to travel overseas from JFK Airport.

Prosecutors said they were part of a group of friends who began inspiring and recruiting each other to join the Islamic State group in the spring of 2014. Some of their friends made it to Syria, but the nine who were prosecuted did not.

Three men were sentenced Monday; two who cooperated were given lighter sentences, but another who didn’t help prosecutors was sentenced to 10 years. Musse and Ahmed are among group members who pleaded guilty but did not cooperate with prosecutors.

Four others await sentencing, include three who went to trial and were also convicted on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder outside the U.S., which carries a possible life sentence, though prosecutors are seeking sentences of 30 or 40 years.

During his sentencing hearing Tuesday, Musse’s attorney, Andy Birrell, said he wouldn’t say his client is reformed, but he did think he could be saved. When the judge asked Musse why he didn’t cooperate with the government, Musse replied that he felt he would have lost the support of the community.

Before he was sentenced, Ahmed told the court he was grateful he was pulled off the airplane as he was about to head overseas, acknowledging it probably saved his life. He also acknowledged that he has some work to do.

“I want you to understand I am not completely changed,” Ahmed told U.S. District Judge Michael Davis. “I’m in the process, but nobody changes overnight. I’m trying every day. I want to reach that point.”

Davis, who has handled all of Minnesota’s terror conspiracy cases, had the six defendants who pleaded guilty evaluated by a German expert on deradicalization and is taking those findings into consideration.

The sentencings cap a long case that shined a light on terrorism recruitment in Minnesota, the state with the largest concentration of Somali immigrants in the U.S. The FBI has said about a dozen people have left Minnesota to join militant groups in Syria in recent years. Before that, more than 22 men were recruited to al-Shabab in Somalia since 2007.