“Minnesota men,” airport edition

This past April six “Minnesota men” were charged with seeking to support ISIS by joining up with the group in Syria. The charges represented the culmination of a 10-month FBI investigation conducted out of the FBI’s Minneapolis office. The office of the United States Attorney for Minnesota initiated the case by the filing of a criminal complaint and supporting FBI affidavit that are available online here. The Department of Justice posted a press release announcing the charges. I wrote about the case in the Weekly Standard article “The threat from ‘Minnesota men” and have a follow-up column in tomorrow’s Star Tribune that should be accessible online tonight.

The case against the six men is not the whole story. The FBI has brought charges against a total of ten “Minnesota men” involved in the same venture. Charges in the tenth such case were filed earlier this month against Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame. The criminal complaint and underlying FBI affidavit are posted online here. The Star Tribune story on the charges against Warsame is here.

The Star Tribune story adds this editorial observation: “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.” I seriously doubt that and my Star Tribune column argues to the contrary based in part on comments made by FBI Minneapolis Chief Division Counsel Kyle Loven in a presentation to the National Security Society this past October.

Indeed, the Star Tribune story itself is suggestive of the adversarial stance of the Somali community to the efforts of law enforcement in the terrorism related cases brought over the past several years. The Star Tribune quotes “community leader” Sadik Warfa: “This is deju vu all over again. 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.” You can say that again. But Warfa said he wants to know why Warsame is being charged now: “Did the government get new evidence?”

And Warfa is concerned about the manifestation of “Islamophobia” in connection with the charges. “Islamophobia” — is that fear of “Minnesota men” acting on their faith and joining the jihad? Or is “Islamophobia” the term of art used to suppress discussion of reasonable concerns raised by these “Minnesota men”?

Last week at a probable cause/pretrial detention hearing the FBI unveiled some of its evidence, though it didn’t precisely answer that question. Describing him as “an Eagan man,” the Star Tribune reported on the detention hearing here.

The FBI affidavit supporting the criminal complaint against Warsame shows him to be the ringleader of the group of ten. Last week’s hearing revealed that he was also a former employee of the Metropolitan Airports Commission working at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.


FBI Special Agent Daniel Higgins testified at the probable cause hearing last week that Warsame worked as a baggage handler at MSP International Airport with access to airplanes from April to August of 2014.


But wait! There’s more.

Higgins testified that in April Warsame boasted to one of the six “Minnesota men” charged that month (Guled Omar) that he had the ability to build homemade rockets that could take down planes that were descending at an elevation of 2,000 feet. The conversation was secretly recorded by a government informant as Warsame and Omer walked around Lake Nokomis in south Minneapolis as planes could be heard flying overhead.

In another conversation they discussed a propaganda video about a “tank hunter” who used rocket-propelled grenades. Warsame indicated he would like to take such a role and said he “loved RPGs.”

The Star Tribune, incidentally, omits these poignant details from its story on the hearing. WCCO/CBS Minnesota includes them here. The AP story has more details here and MPR has more here. These are all must reading.

Not to worry though. Warsame’s attorney elicited the concession from Higgins that the FBI didn’t actually have evidence that Warsame had tried to build any rockets. So we have that. The discussion may only have reflected his hopes and dreams.

The FBI generally does not defend itself in these cases. As Loven explained in his October presentation to the National Security Society, they let their cases do the talking for them. Based on last week’s hearing, however, you can see why the FBI might have wanted to keep Warsame under surveillance and see what he had up his sleeve or where else he might lead them.