Embattled congressional freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., once asked a judge to show leniency toward a group of Minnesota men accused of trying to join the Islamic State terror group.
“The best deterrent to fanaticism is a system of compassion,” she wrote at the time. “We must alter our attitude and approach; if we truly want to effect change, we should refocus our efforts on inclusion and rehabilitation.”
The nine Minnesota men were facing decades in prison after being accused in 2015 of making plans, including buying fake passports, in an effort to travel to Syria and fight for ISIS, which was at its peak level of activity and held territory in Syria and Iraq.
“The best deterrent to fanaticism is a system of compassion. We must alter our attitude and approach; if we truly want to effect change, we should refocus our efforts on inclusion and rehabilitation.”
Omar, who was then a Minnesota state representative, was part of a group that sent letters to Judge Michael Davis urging him to give shorter sentences, arguing that harsher penalties would only lead to more people joining the terror group.
“Incarcerating 20-year-old men for 30 or 40 years is essentially a life sentence. Society will have no expectations of the to-be 50- or 60-year-old released prisoners; it will view them with distrust and revulsion,” read Omar’s letter to the judge, as obtained by FOX 9 of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“Such punitive measures not only lack efficacy, they inevitably create an environment in which extremism can flourish, aligning with the presupposition of terrorist recruitment,” she added.
Omar’s letter seeking more lenient sentences resurfaced on social media amid criticism over her attack on Sen. Lindsey Graham, Covington Catholic High School students, and the endorsement of socialist Venezuelan dictatorship.
One of the men in particular, Abdirahman Yasin Daud, was facing over 30 years in prison for trying to join the terrorist group. He admitted in court that he wasn’t trying to enter Syria on humanitarian grounds, but rather to participate in the activities of ISIS.
“I was not going there to pass out medical kits or food. I was going strictly to fight and kill on behalf of the Islamic State.”
“I was not going there to pass out medical kits or food. I was going strictly to fight and kill on behalf of the Islamic State,” he said.
But Omar told the judge that the best way counter extremism was with empathy rather than punishment.
“A long-term prison sentence for one who chose violence to combat direct marginalization is a statement that our justice system misunderstands the guilty. A restorative approach to justice assesses the lure of criminality and addresses it.”
According to media reports, almost all the men on trial received lengthy sentences, with Daud serving 30 years in prison after he was found guilty of trying to provide material support to ISIS and conspiring to commit murder overseas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.