A man whom prosecutors described as the “emir,” or leader, of a local group of suspected would-be jihadists pleaded guilty Thursday to charges that he and his alleged co-conspirators planned to travel overseas to fight on behalf of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Abdirizak Warsame, 20, told U.S. District Judge Michael Davis that he and the others had been radicalized by watching online propaganda videos and listening to lectures by Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born radical cleric who was killed in a 2011 drone strike. Warsame also admitted that he hadn’t told anyone else of the group’s plans, which entailed illegally obtaining passports to travel to Turkey, where they would link up with ISIL sympathizers and eventually cross over into Syria.
“At the time I felt like it was a duty to go and help the innocent people of Iraq and Syria at the time because of the oppression,” Warsame said during the hearing at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis. “At the time I was attracted to going to war and fighting and bringing back the caliphate.”
Three of Warsame’s co-defendants have already pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges. Five others are scheduled to start trial in May, while other members of the conspiracy made it to Syria.
After his hourlong hearing, Warsame was taken back to Anoka County jail, where he has been since his arrest in late December. A sentencing date has not been set.
In accepting the government’s plea agreement, Warsame pleaded guilty to a single count of providing material support to a designated terrorist organization. The charge carries a 15-year maximum sentence.
His testimony at the packed hearing Thursday provided the most revealing look yet into group’s motives during the spring of 2014.
Had things gone according to plan, Warsame would have gone to Syria two years ago to join the jihad against President Bashar Assad to end the “oppression” of Sunni Muslims in the region, he said.
Davis earlier in the day rejected a motion by attorneys for five of Warsame’s alleged co-conspirators to drop murder conspiracy charges on grounds that they have “combatant immunity.”
Attorneys for Hamza Ahmed, brothers Adnan and Mohamed Farah, Abdirahman Daud and Guled Omar filed motions last week arguing that combatants are immune from criminal prosecutions for acts of war, including murder, against military targets.
Davis granted a defense motion that would compel the prosecution to disclose government witnesses who are receiving or will receive de-radicalization counseling, and any other deals or compensation.
Two other defendants caught up in the federal probe, Zacharia Abdurahman and Hanad Musse, pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization. Another, Abdullahi Yusuf, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in February and agreed to testify for the government.