ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Two men who admitted to bombing a Bloomington mosque almost five years ago will spend less time in prison for their crimes than sentencing guidelines call for, following pleas for leniency from the Muslim community.

U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank on Tuesday sentenced Michael McWhorter, 33, and Joe Morris, 26, to 16 years and 14 years after they pled guilty to several charges, including federal civil rights violations, in connection to the attack on Dar al-Farooq in August 2017. No one was physically injured in the bombing, but it traumatized Muslims in the Twin Cities.

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They could’ve spent much more time behind bars — the mandatory minimum is 35 years — but prosecutors, defense attorneys and faith leaders, including worshippers at Dar al-Farooq asked for clemency.

“In a profound act of healing for our community in living with our faith, our community has chosen to forgive them,” said Imam Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. “We are able despite our pain to see the humanity of our fellow human beings and to understand their mitigating circumstances which is why we asked the judge for leniency.”

Prosecutors said that both men cooperated with the federal government and helped with the prosecution and conviction of Emily Hari, the leader of the anti-government militia group who recruited McWhorter and Morris and was the “mastermind” of the plot. She was sentenced to 53 years in September.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Ethen called McWhorter a “lynch pin” in Hari’s case and called for a 50% reduction from sentencing guidelines for both men, an “incredibly rare” ask from federal prosecutors, she said.

McWhorter and Morris both expressed remorse for their actions in court Tuesday, and Muslim faith leaders said they felt that regret.

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“If I could go back in time and take it back, I would,” McWhorter said.

Hari, McWhorter and Morris arrived at Dar al-Farooq in the early morning hours of August 5, 2017, and Morris broke the window of the imam’s office and threw gasoline and diesel fuel inside, according to court documents. McWhorter then lit a pipe bomb that exploded, causing extensive fire damage.

During a press conference Tuesday, members of Dar al-Farooq stood in that very room, calling on the greater Minnesota community to show compassion and forgive McWhorter and Morris.

“Today we practiced restorative justice, not punitive justice,” said Mohamed Omar, who is executive director of the Dar al-Farooq.

There were two dozen who gave victim impact statements to the court during Hari’s hearing, seeking the maximum sentence in her case — a stark contrast from pleas for leniency in cases of McWhorter and Morris.

Zaman said Muslims emotionally harmed by the attack see a distinction between Hari, whom he described as the “evil genius” behind the ambush, and the other defendants who followed Hari’s lead.

“The nation of America is currently divided. There is hate-mongering going on, so a hateful person like Hari can take two people who are not necessarily part of this hate river and they can get swept up in it as they did in this case,” said Zaman. “It’s important for us to distinguish these nuances in the reality that occurred.”

Caroline Cummings