Friday, July 10, 2009

Terrorist Sentenced In Mpls. Court

A man who spent 5½ years in solitary confinement before pleading guilty to conspiring to help al-Qaida will spend almost another year in federal custody and then be deported to Canada. Mohammed Abdullah Warsame, 35, was sentenced Thursday to seven years and eight months in prison. U.S. District Judge John R. Tunheim gave him credit for time served and for good behavior, so he will likely be released and deported in about 10 months. Authorities say Warsame, a Canadian citizen, traveled to Afghanistan to attend al-Qaida training camps and dined with Osama bin Laden. They also say he went to the Taliban's front line. Warsame's attorneys, who argued that he should be sentenced to time served, depicted him as a bumbling idealist whom other fighters in the camps in Afghanistan viewed as ineffective and awkward. Prosecutors seeking a sentence of 12½ years painted Warsame as a jihadist who called his time in one training camp "one of the greatest experiences" of his life. They say even after the Sept. 11 attacks, he passed along information to al-Qaida operatives about border entries and whereabouts of jihadists - and only stopped when he was arrested in December 2003. In one December 2000 e-mail, prosecutors said, Warsame tells a jihadist to keep him informed "because I don't want to be late for the action, you know what I mean. We hear there might be an attack soon." Warsame pleaded guilty in May to one count of conspiracy to provide material support and resources to al-Qaida, admitting to conspiring with others to help the group beginning in 2000, when he left Canada and entered Afghanistan. His uncle, Abdullah Warsame, said Thursday that Warsame's wife left the courtroom in tears after he was sentenced. "I was not expecting this," Abdullah Warsame said. "We expected the time served ... considering his hardship." He said his nephew went to Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks, at a time when the U.S. was negotiating with the Taliban, not fighting them. He said Warsame has not had physical contact with another person for nearly six years, and when his wife visited she could see him only over a video screen."I suffered, and suffered, and suffered a mountain-load of suffering," Warsame said in a letter read by his attorney, David Thomas, describing his time in solitary confinement at the prison in Oak Park Heights. Tunheim said that even after 5½ years and hundreds of documents, Warsame remained a bit of a mystery to him. In deciding on a sentence, he studied other cases and noted that those with lighter sentences cooperated with authorities early. Warsame, he said, hasn't revealed all he knows. "Certainly you had access to, and relationships with, the most dangerous individuals on earth," Tunheim said. On the other hand, the judge said, there was no evidence that Warsame was involved in direct acts of terrorism. In the end, Tunheim said the sentence reflected the seriousness of the crime. Once deported, Warsame - who is of Somali descent - would be allowed to return to the United States only with permission from federal authorities. Defense attorneys say the deportation was negotiated as part of his plea deal and Canadian officials helped work it out. A representative for the Canadian consulate was not immediately available to comment Thursday. U.S. Attorney Frank Magill issued a statement saying the sentence shows "those who knowingly provide support to terrorists will be held accountable for their actions." Defense attorney Andrea George told the court to remember who was being sentenced. "You are not here today to sentence al-Qaida. You are not here today to sentence Osama bin Laden," she said. "The government seeks to drape the blood of al-Qaida on the shoulders of Mohammed Warsame." Federal prosecutor Joseph Kaster argued that even after Sept. 11, Warsame stayed in contact with associates in Afghanistan. Once he even sent money to a former Taliban trainer. "He may not have been a born soldier ... but what he had, he offered," Kaster said. "He offered himself." Authorities say Warsame tried to bring his family to Afghanistan, but was told by bin Laden lieutenant Mohammed Atef to return to Canada and renew his passport so could easily travel in Western countries. Warsame eventually relocated to Minneapolis.