Federal charges were filed Wednesday in Minneapolis against another young Somali man from the Twin Cities, alleging that he conspired to provide material support to the terrorist organization known as ISIL.
Warsame appeared briefly in court Thursday morning. He will be held pending a pre-trial detention hearing that is scheduled for Tuesday.
The criminal complaint alleges that Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame, 20, of Eagan, was among a group of 10 men from the Twin Cities’ Somali-American community who began planning around April 2014 to travel to Syria to fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Three of those men have already pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges, five are scheduled to start trial in May and one is in Syria.
Warsame was arrested Wednesday and is being held in the Anoka County jail.
Minnesota is believed to have produced more would-be foreign fighters than any other state, but it also has a Muslim community that’s exceptionally engaged with efforts to counter extremism. Word that another Twin Cities Somali-American was being charged spread quickly Wednesday night in Minneapolis.
“This is deju vu all over again,” said community leader Sadik Warfa. “The safety of this country is a concern for all of us. … We’re hoping this case is the last, and we can all move forward where these kind of things don’t happen.”
But Warfa said he wants to know why Warsame is being charged now: “Did the government get new evidence?”
Authorities offered no comment on why Warsame was arrested eight months after his fellow defendants.
According to the complaint against Warsame, he was part of a group of men who played basketball and watched propaganda videos at a local mosque. The men aspired to travel to Syria and fight with ISIL. He and others who planned to get to Syria via Mexico met throughout the spring of 2014, according to the complaint, which is based on a sworn statement by FBI special agent Vadym Vinetsky.
Warsame eventually became the leader of the group and encouraged those with passports and money to travel to Syria by the end of the upcoming summer. The complaint alleges that he provided $200 to help one of the men expedite a passport application. And according to the U.S. Department of State’s Passport Office, Warsame applied on April 16, 2014, for his own passport on an expedited basis.
On his written application, Warsame said he needed a passport for a July family trip to Britain. But in the passport office, he said it was for a family trip to Australia and that he needed the passport soon — “the same day if possible,” according to the complaint.
His application was denied on the grounds of insufficient supporting documentation. Vinetsky wrote that he believes that kept Warsame from trying to leave for Syria in the spring. He did, however, obtain a passport in August.
Vinetsky wrote that Warsame told his alleged co-conspirators in April 2015 that he was planning to go to East Africa on a family trip, then break away to travel to Syria or Somalia. He said he’d go first to Somalia to join the terror organization Al-Shabab, expecting that it would join forces with ISIL. If that happened, he reasoned that he might not need to travel to Syria, Vinetsky wrote, “because ISIL would then be in Somalia.”
A timeline laid out in the complaint alleges that Warsame accompanied some of the other men to a library in May to print out the travel itinerary for Abdullahi Yusuf, who had plane reservations for May 28, 2014, to travel from the Twin Cities to Istanbul, Turkey.
FBI agents prevented Yusuf from boarding his flight. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy in February and agreed to testify for the government.
The complaint alleges that Warsame later provided ISIL contact information to a 21-year-old Minneapolis man who arrived in Turkey on June 9 and that in November, while staying in Chicago with his father, Warsame was in phone contact with Twin Cities men who tried in November 2014 to leave for Syria. By early 2015, the men revived plans to go to Syria via Mexico. Warsame, who was back in the Twin Cities, participated in several of these conversations. Some were recorded by a man who was cooperating with the FBI.
Warfa said his community will redouble efforts to send a message to the youth: “They are better if they stay here at home, get a decent education and embrace American life.”
With these latest charges against Warsame, Warfa said he hopes that his community won’t be “victimized twice.”
“Islamophobia is a real concern within our community,” he said, noting a recent uptick in anti-Muslim talk. “If someone in the Somali community has done wrong, the legal system will take care of it. But cases such as this shouldn’t reflect on the entire community.”