Somali man who left US to join al-Shabab now in ICE custody

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man who left the U.S. in 2007 and joined the terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia was released from federal prison on Thursday, but is now in the custody of U.S. immigration officials.

Abdifatah Yusuf Isse, 31, is to be detained pending the outcome of removal proceedings before an immigration judge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

Isse, a legal U.S. resident but not an American citizen, is among about 22 young Somali men who have left Minnesota since 2007 to join the terror group in Somalia. He eventually returned to the U.S. and was arrested in February 2009 at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as he was trying to go to Tanzania.

He pleaded guilty in 2009 to one count of providing material support to terrorists. He was sentenced in 2013 to three years in prison, and his release from a federal facility in Rochester took into account credit for time served and good time.

His attorney, Paul Engh, said he was working to resolve Isse's immigration status. Engh said Isse would like to live in Seattle, where he has family, if he's allowed to stay in the U.S.

Isse was a cooperating witness in the government's case against another man. He testified that he and other young men left Minneapolis in 2007 and eventually went to Somalia. Isse said he wanted to fight Ethiopians, who were seen by many Somalis in the U.S. as unwelcome invaders of their homeland. He testified he didn't know what al-Shabab was until he reached Somalia.

He told the court he spent time at an al-Shabab safe house — where he received limited weapons training and raised funds to buy an AK-47 — then went to another location and began helping clear trees for a training camp. He left the camp after about a week and eventually returned to the U.S.

At his sentencing hearing, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis said he was taking a chance on Isse, who faced up to 15 years in prison.

"When you walked away (from the camp), when you devised a scheme to get away, that told me a lot about you," Davis said, according to a transcript of the May 14, 2013, hearing. "If you had been involved in the ambush, you would be doing a lot of time."

Davis also said that if Isse is not deported after his prison term, he would be under "high supervision."

Isse told the judge: "I'm really sorry I went back to Somalia. I shouldn't have done that ... I promise you I will never be in trouble again."

Isse served most of his prison sentence at a low-security facility in North Carolina. He was transferred to the federal medical center in Rochester sometime in the last week or two, Engh said.

Engh declined to make Isse available for an interview.


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