More than five years after FBI agents first knocked on the door of his Minneapolis apartment, terrorism suspect Mohammed Abdullah Warsame brought an abrupt end to his legal battles Wednesday by pleading guilty to a single charge of conspiring to provide material support and resources to Al-Qaida.
Four other charges against Warsame, 35, will be dropped, including providing material support to the terrorist organization and making false statements to the FBI.
His plea caps one of the longest pretrial detentions for a terrorism-related case since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Attorney Andrea George, of the federal defender's office, said it was time to resolve the case.
"Five and a half years in solitary confinement and they finally came forward with an offer that Mr. Warsame was willing to accept," George said Wednesday evening.
Defense attorneys had filed several motions to release him, including one early this year. "This endless incarceration without conviction must end," wrote another of his attorneys, David Thomas, of Chicago. A status hearing on the case had been set for Wednesday when the plea agreement was announced.
George, an assistant federal defender, said that defense attorneys will seek a sentence of time served and that prosecutors are expected to seek a sentence totaling 12 1/2 years. "We have a very fair-minded judge," she said. "I am hoping that 5 1/2 years in solitary confinement is more than enough time for the offense."
Prosecutors described the plea agreement in a news release, saying that Warsame attended two training camps in Afghanistan in 2000, met Osama bin Laden at one camp, and later worked at an Al-Qaida guesthouse and clinic. In 2001, he traveled from Pakistan to Canada, establishing e-mail contacts with several Al-Qaida associates he had met in Afghanistan, the news release said. He sent money to one of his former training camp commanders, it said. After moving to Minneapolis, he maintained e-mail contact in 2002 and 2003 with several people associated with Al-Qaida, the release said.
"This case serves as a reminder of the continuing threats we face as a nation and our resolve to meet those threats," David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, said in the release.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney for Minnesota said the office would not comment beyond the news release.
Warsame, a Canadian citizen of Somali descent, is scheduled to be sentenced July 9. He has agreed to be sent back to Canada after his sentence is complete.
Warsame was a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College when he was arrested and held secretly as a material witness in December 2003. He was indicted in early 2004 and charges were added to his case months later.
A defense attorney said early in the case that Warsame was searching for a Muslim utopia and went to the training camps because he was out of money and needed shelter. The attorney said that someone had lent Warsame money to get back to North America and that the money he sent was repayment.
In hearing after hearing, Warsame responded politely to questions. But in court filings and interviews, attorneys working for Warsame's defense showed frustration with delays in the case. Authorities needed extra time for security clearances. Some information was classified by the federal government and defense attorneys had no legal access to it.
Defense attorneys also moved to suppress their client's statements, arguing that Warsame was in custody when talking to FBI agents at Camp Ripley, a National Guard base near Little Falls, Minn.
They also argued that conditions of his detention were excessive for a man who had never been found guilty of a crime. Despite the delays, Thomas said in December that his client wanted to keep fighting the charges.
But in a hearing earlier this month, Warsame showed frustration when U.S. District Judge John Tunheim said he would take under advisement a request to release Warsame pending trial. Warsame stood and said: "This is unfair, sir. I've been here a long time."
The statutory maximum sentence Warsame faces is 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the news release.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102