One of nine Minnesota men convicted in a federal ISIL recruitment case this year is preparing to tell his side of the story — how he and his family found a welcoming home in Minnesota after fleeing East Africa, and how he gradually came under the influence of radical Islamic views.
In an unpublished manuscript obtained by the Star Tribune, and in an interview to be aired Sunday night on “60 Minutes,’’ Abdirizak Warsame describes how he found counsel in the online lectures of a radical imam and reflected on his decision to later testify against friends knowing he would be labeled “a snitch or a traitor.”
“I honestly think it would be very stupid to have such an experience and not share it with others,” Warsame wrote.
Warsame will be sentenced next month along with eight others in the case.
His appearance on the popular CBS news program is the latest effort by the U.S. attorney’s office to offer defendants and their families a platform to discuss their concerns about radicalization in American neighborhoods. It is unclear if Warsame’s book will ever be published.
Warsame was just 10 months old when his family left a refugee camp to settle in the United States. He wrote that his family found “a sense of peace and order” here, but that he struggled with an identity crisis as he reached adolescence.
Warsame said the posthumous teachings of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American Al-Qaida cleric killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen, gave him temporary clarity.
“The more I listened, the more my heart went out to those Muslims suffering around the world,” Warsame wrote. “[Awlaki] continued to speak about jihad and a holy war between the Muslims and disbelievers.”
Awlaki’s name also came up in plea hearings and trial testimony in federal court in Minneapolis, as Warsame and others described what moved them to want to fight alongside ISIL militants.
Warsame never attempted to leave the country but others in the group said he was voted emir, or leader, of the group.
Warsame was arrested in December 2015 — months after others were in the case — and quickly agreed to cooperate with the government.
“I knew I was guilty from the start and the prosecutors had the evidence to prove it,” Warsame wrote.
Rock bottom for Warsame came when he listened to his voice on tapes secretly recorded by a fellow conspirator working for the FBI.
“I couldn’t stand being in there any longer, listening to the very person I used to be,” Warsame wrote. “I became depressed, not eating meals and locking myself in myself. I was at my lowest point in life.”
Of his two days on the witness stand, Warsame wrote: “Seeing my co-defendants in the predicament they were in broke my heart to pieces. I never wanted to wish harm on any of them, but I was in a tight situation myself.”
The manuscript was prepared for a company founded by a fellow prison inmate named Omar Beasley, who is awaiting sentencing on federal drug conspiracy charges. Beasley interviewed Warsame and another defendant, Adnan Farah.
Warsame wrote that he didn’t regret his actions because he was caught, but instead because “I was wrong and foolish in telling someone to go join a terrorist group.”
He said he almost backed away from testifying when reading news reports that previewed his appearance at trial.
He included his co-defendants in an acknowledgment section at the beginning of the book. “It’s never too late to change,” he wrote.