Al Qaeda in Minneapolis

Last night John Hinderaker noted the Star Tribune story on the guilty plea entered by Mohammed Warsame in Minnesota federal district court yesterday. Warsame pled to one count of conspiring to provide material support and resources to al Qaeda. Our neighbors to the north will be pleased to know that Warsame has will return to Canada after he serves his sentence in the United States.

The Star Tribune story on Warsame’s plea does not pause to revisit the case against Warsame, even though it was the author of the current story (Pam Louwagie) who reported on the case when it first surfaced publicly five years ago. In the context of his guilty plea yesterday the case deserves another look. In this post I draw directly on Louwagie’s 2004 coverage of the case in the Star Tribune.

The case against Warsame dates back to his arrest as a material witness at the end of 2003. At the time of his arrest Warsame was a student at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College, about which we have written previously in connection with the planned installation of foot baths for Muslim students.

According to the indictment handed up in the Minnesota federal district court, Warsame was a resident of Minneapolis by way of Canada and Somalia. He was first arrested and detained as a material witness. The subsequent indictment charged Warsame with conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda between March 2000 and December 8, 2003, the day he was arrested in Minneapolis by the FBI. Warsame admitted traveling to an al Qaeda training camp in 2000 and 2001.

Star Tribune stories covering the arrest and indictment of Warsame carried the usual comments of relatives and allies. The Star Tribune reported that Abdullah Warsame, who said Mohammed calls him uncle (it was apparently too difficult to establish the actual relationship between them, if any), said that Mohammed never spoke of training camps or al Qaeda. Warsame’s wife was quoted as saying that her husband is a responsible man. “He is not a terrorist,” she said.

Abdullah Warsame also assured the Star Tribune that Warsame “is not a political person. I have a very strong feeling that when everything is over, the government will find that he is totally innocent.” Uncle Abdullah to the contrary notwithstanding, It turns out that these al Qaeda types tend tend not to differentiate between religious and political activities. It’s all about the jihad, stupid!

Court documents released in January 2004 revealed significant details of the government’s case. When he was arrested, Warsame told FBI agents that he was lured by the “utopian” Muslim society in Afghanistan and then trained at the two al Qaeda camps. Warsame joinined the front lines for the Taliban and was ready to live in Afghanistan with his wife and daughter.

Once inside Afghanistan, he ended up at two camps, where he trained on weapons and martial arts. He also taught others English. He spent several months at the first camp and about two months at the second. At the second camp, where training was more demanding, he saw Osama bin Laden several times, attended his lectures and sat next to him at a meal. He knew bin Laden was sought in connection with terrorist attacks but found the Al-Qaida leader “very inspirational.” When he returned to North America, he wired money to a bank account in Pakistan for his al Qaeda buddies.

He “experienced combat” twice with the Taliban on the front lines. After the training, Warsame stayed at a guest house near Kandahar and continued teaching English to al Qaeda members and served as a guard. When Warsame decided in 2001 that he wanted to stay in Afghanistan and have his wife and child join him there, he went to a senior al Qaeda official in Kandahar for money. Instead of bringing his family to Afghanistan, he was told, al Qaeda would pay for Warsame to go back home. He got a plane ticket and $1,700 and went back to Toronto in April 2001.

He became a legal resident of the United States and moved to Minneapolis to be with his wife and daughter in April 2002. Once back in North America, Warsame kept in covert contact with people he had met at the camps and wired money to Pakistan for them.

Among other things, the Warsame case illustrates the efforts of al Qaeda to seed its loyalists within the United States for future action. The case also offers evidence of the successful efforts undertaken by the Bush administration to prevent another al Qaeda attack on the United States following 9/11.

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