By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A St. Louis Park man who was recruited by ISIS continues to sit in a prison in northeastern Syria.

He told CBS News correspondent Holly Williams he would like to come back to the United States but doesn’t want to spend 15 years behind bars.

The man, Abdelhamid Al-Madioum, is now 22. He left for ISIS in 2015 when he was 18. A native of Morocco, he left the same time a number of young Somali-American men tried to leave Minnesota for ISIS and ended up getting arrested, convicted and in one case killed.

Esme Murphy looks at a terror recruitment picture that appears to have changed dramatically for the better.

Back in 2016, local terror recruiting was in the headlines often. Al-Madioum had left behind his life in St. Louis Park the year before to join ISIS. A 2014 graduate of Hopkins High School, he now sits in a Syrian prison for foreign ISIS fighters hoping to come back to Minnesota. He was initially recruited on Twitter.

“He said, ‘Do you want to speak with someone from ISIS?’ and I said, ‘Yes, of course,'” Al-Madioum told CBS.

RELATED: Minnesotan Who Joined ISIS Speaks From Syrian Prison

A 2018 report by George Washington University found from 2013-17, Minnesota was No. 1 per capita of all U.S. states in terror recruiting. An entire section of the report focuses on the so-called “Minnesota Cluster.”

We talked with three community leaders who declined to appear on camera, citing the sensitivity of the subject. They told us terror recruiting appears to be down dramatically. They credit outreach by community and government groups, but also a number of outside factors.

“The community is way better than in the past several years. We still think there is a lot of work to be done,” said Abdi Bihi, a community activist.

Bihi and others said the lure of ISIS has become nonexistent with its defeat in most of the territories it once held. The improving Twin Cities economy has helped make it easier for young Somali Minnesotans to get jobs. The final deterrent: The lengthy sentences handed down to the three young men convicted in 2016 who each received between 30 and 35 years in prison.

While there has not been a major terror arrest in Minnesota recently, there have been cases elsewhere.

On Thursday, an American Airlines mechanic who is charged with tampering with an aircraft is being investigated for alleged ties to ISIS.

The FBI agrees the problem of terror recruiting here is dramatically better. FBI Spokesperson Kevin Smith gives credit to “a much higher trust level between the FBI and leaders and members of the Somali Community.”

Esme Murphy

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