Warsame pleads guilty in deal with governmentby Elizabeth Stawicki, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A former Minneapolis man who's been imprisoned for more than five years awaiting trial on terrorism charges has struck a plea deal with the U.S. government.
Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to provide support to a terrorist organization. In exchange, the government will drop four other charges that include providing support to a terrorist organization and lying to the FBI.
Warsame, a Canadian citizen of Somali descent, lived in Minneapolis as a community college student before he was arrested in 2003. The government later charged him with providing support to al-Qaeda, alleging he took part in military camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan; attended lectures by Osama Bin Laden; taught English to al-Qaeda operatives, and lied to the FBI.
Warsame's lawyers say he's spent more time in prison awaiting trial longer than anyone else in U.S. history -- five and half years, primarily in solitary confinement. Warsame had maintained that he never knowingly attended an al Qaeda training camp but was on a spiritual journey seeking a "utopian" society in Afghanistan.
After court, Warsame's attorney David Thomas said his client pleaded guilty to the one count because it reduced the maximum time he could serve in prison from 30 to 12 1/2 years.
"We believe that this plea is the beginning of the end for the resolution of this nightmare sequence of events that Mr. Warsame has been for the last five years, locked up essentially in solitary confinement," Thomas said.
There are a number of reasons Warsame has waited so long waiting for trial. Everyone working on the case had to get a security clearance, including new attorneys who joined the case later. There was classified information that had to be cleared. Warsame's laywers also accused the U.S. government of stonewalling to keep their client locked up.
But the latest snag was a delay by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2007, Judge Jack Tunheim ruled that FBI agents failed to read Warsame his rights during one of his interrogations. As a result, Tunheim said some, but not all, of Warsame's statements to the FBI could not be used against him in court. Federal prosecutors appealed that ruling and the 8th Circuit still has not issued its decision.
The government has agreed to drop that appeal and charges that Warsame lied to the FBI.
Thomas said the idea that Warsame had been locked up so long before trial had "a lot to do with" Warsame making the deal. Thomas added, however, that every statement Warsame made in court was true. Thomas acknowledged that Warsame had been to the camps in Afghanistan.
"What will be the subject at sentencing is why he went there, what happened while he was there, why he came back and what if anything happened when he came back," Thomas said.
Warsame's sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 9th. Prosecutors want Warsame to face a sentence of 12 and a half years; while Warsame's attorneys will ask for the time he has already served.
Judge Tunheim will make the final decision following the sentencing hearing. Once Warsame serves his sentence, he will be deported to Canada. He's also being transferred from Oak Park Heights prison to the Sherburne County Jail.
- All Things Considered, 05/20/2009, 5:43 p.m.