Islamic State alleged sympathizer held in Minneapolis

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man charged with conspiring to help the Islamic State group was ordered held Thursday pending a detention hearing next week.

Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame, 20, of Eagan, made his initial appearance in federal court on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and one count of providing such support.

Court documents allege Warsame, who was arrested Wednesday night, tried to help other young men from Minnesota’s Somali community travel to Syria to fight for the Islamic State group. Nine others in that group were charged earlier.

Warsame gave a slight wave to family and friends gathered for his initial appearance. His relatives declined to comment as they left the courthouse.

During the hearing that lasted less than 10 minutes, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis asked Warsame if he had examined the charging document. He replied, “Not really.”

Warsame was deemed qualified for a federal defender after telling the judge he had no assets and his only income was a $14-an-hour job at a private security company, Securitas.

Chief federal defender Katherian Roe represented Warsame at the hearing but said he would be assigned another lawyer going forward. Roe told the judge that he had testified before a federal grand jury, but she didn’t give details.

Court documents allege Warsame and others had planned to go to Syria by way of Mexico. According to an FBI agent’s affidavit, one man who was planning to leave for Syria appointed Warsame to replace him as “emir,” or leader, of the group.

“As the new emir, Warsame immediately encouraged those with passports and money to travel to Syria by the end of the upcoming summer,” the affidavit said.

The document says Warsame gave another man $200 for an expedited passport application. Warsame also applied for a U.S. passport on an expedited basis but was denied. Warsame eventually obtained a passport in August 2014, the affidavit said.

One man booked a May 2014 flight from Minneapolis to Istanbul, Turkey, with the intention of going on to Syria, the document said. The day before the man was to leave, Warsame accompanied him and two others to a library where the man printed out his itinerary. The four then went shopping for items needed for travel, according to the affidavit. The man who planned to fly to Turkey was stopped at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by FBI agents, who prevented him from boarding his flight.

By April 2015, the document says, Warsame changed his plan to travel via Mexico and instead planned to go with his family to East Africa, then either break free of them and travel from there to Syria, or wait in Somalia for a time when he believed the Islamic extremist al-Shabab group would join forces with the Islamic State group.

Five Minnesota men are scheduled to stand trial in May on charges including conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and conspiracy to commit murder outside the U.S., which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The men have been described as friends in Minnesota’s Somali community who recruited and inspired each other to join the Islamic State. Some of them communicated with Islamic State members overseas, some took steps to get fake passports, and some played paintball to prepare for combat, prosecutors say.

Three other members of the group have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and are awaiting sentencing. Authorities say the ninth is in Syria.

About a dozen Minnesota residents have traveled to Syria to join jihadist groups there since late 2013. In addition, more than 22 young men from Minnesota’s Somali community have left the state since 2007 to join al-Shabab in Somalia.

Separately, a Minnesota man named Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, who joined al-Shabab in Somalia more than seven years ago, surrendered to Somalia’s federal government on Nov. 6, the U.S. State Department said in an email to the AP. Hassan was a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. but not an American citizen.

Hassan had been fighting with al-Shabab but recently went online to urge others to carry out violence on behalf of IS. He was among those wanted by the FBI for allegedly providing material support to al-Shabab, and he faces several terrorism charges in the United States.

State Department spokeswoman Pooja Jhunjhunwala said Hassan is in the custody of the Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency in Mogadishu. She said the U.S. is discussing the case with the Somali Federal Government, but noted that the U.S. does not have an extradition agreement with Somalia.

In a phone interview Tuesday with Voice of America, Hassan said he has no intention of returning to America.

“Any crimes that I have committed, if there is any, it is done over here in Somalia,” he told Voice of America. “If I am to be going to court, it is going to be in Somalia not in America.”

Hassan, who was speaking from prison, said he wasn’t tied to the Islamic State group. “I am not part of ISIS and I have nothing to do with any other group or any other jihadi movement,” he said.

Hassan said he joined al-Shabab to help defend against the Ethiopian intervention in Somalia, but he left the group in 2013 “because of the oppression that they are doing on the people, the way they are killing people, and the imprisonment of innocent people and the torture without no evidence at all.”

He said that last month, al-Shabab members raided his home and terrorized his family, Voice of America reported. He said that he escaped, but was later arrested by government forces.

The defections of Hassan and Jones may show tensions within al-Shabab.

Al-Shabab’s leadership declared that fighters acting in contravention with the mainstream stand to be aligned with al-Qaida would represent “Bid’ah,” or misguidance, which would lead to them being killed. Foreign fighters with al-Shabab would have to give up their desire to join IS to escape death.

Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, said Hassan used social media to help recruit a new class of jihadists, including some from Minnesota. While news of his arrest is important, Katz said, there are many others who are willing to take his place.