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Left-wing Rep. Ilhan Omar faces new backlash over effort to gain leniency for 9 men accused of trying to join ISIS

'The best deterrent to fanaticism is a system of compassion.'

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) is facing new scrutiny after it was revealed she once attempted to win leniency for a group of Minnesota men accused of trying to join the Islamic State.

What are the details?

In 2016, Omar wrote to Judge Michael Davis on behalf of Abdirahman Yasin Daud, who was one of two young men arrested in San Diego in 2015, but were members of a larger group attempting to join ISIS, according to KMSP-TV. The group consisted of nine Somali-Americans.

Specifically, Daud was arrested for attempting to purchase fake passports for travel to Syria. Federal prosecutors recommended in 2016 that Daud serve 30 years in federal prison with a lifetime of supervised release.

At the time, Omar — who was only a Minnesota state lawmaker — urged Davis to exercise "compassion" on the men, employing a "restorative approach to justice." She emphasized that the ruling would "set a precedent and has the potential to be a landmark case in addressing extremism."

Omar wrote in a letter to Davis:

The best deterrent to fanaticism is a system of compassion. We must alter our attitude and approach; if we truly want to affect change, we should refocus our efforts on inclusion and rehabilitation. A long-term prison sentence for one who chose violence to combat direct marginalization is a statement that our justice system misunderstands the guilty.

In all, 13 letters pleading leniency were sent to Davis. Meanwhile, the defense argued for light sentences because the "immigrant men were caught between two worlds — the United States and pride in their Somali heritage," according to KMSP.

"The defense argued the young men were lured by propaganda on the internet that suggested that a 'true Muslim' should be in Syria saving other Muslims who are being killed and trying to restore the Caliphate," KMSP reported.

What happened with Daud?

In the end, Omar's plea did not persuade Davis, who sentenced Daud to 30 years in federal prison. He was found guilty on charges of "conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and conspiracy to commit murder outside the U.S.," according to the Chicago Tribune.

"I'm certainly not being persecuted for my faith. I was certainly not entrapped. 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," Daud said at his sentencing.

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