A former Minneapolis man who awaited trial for more than five years on terrorism charges, could be released and deported to Canada in less than a year.
U.S. District Judge Jack Tunheim on Thursday sentenced Mohamed Warsame, a Canadian citizen of Somali descent, to about seven and a half years in prison. With credit for time served, he'll be deported to Canada next spring.
The sentencing puts an end to a nearly six-year saga in a Minnesota terrorism case that never went to trial. Police arrested Mohamed Warsame in Minneapolis in 2003, but for a variety of reasons his case dragged on for years.
Most recently, the case had been held up for more than year while waiting for a federal appeals court to rule on evidence. That ruling never came, and in May, the government and Warsame struck a deal. Warsame pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide support and resources to al Qaeda.
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In court, one of Warsame's lawyers read a letter Warsame penned to the judge. In it, he repeatedly says he has suffered tremendously in prison but that he never lost faith or hope in the judge. He said he was a Minnesotan with a dream; he had a young family until tragedy struck.
Judge Tunheim told Warsame that even after five and a half years, hundreds of documents and motions, Warsame was still a bit of a mystery. Was he a dangerous terrorist or someone seeking a Utopian society, Tunheim wondered.
One of Warsame's lawyers told Tunheim that the U.S. government was seeking to "drape the blood of al-Qaeda on the shoulders of Mohamed Warsame." The attorney said, in reality, Warsame was a nearsighted, overweight, uncoordinated man who went to Pakistan and Afghanistan on a religious pilgrimage.
Attorneys for the U.S. Government said the camps Warsame attended were not religious but "proving grounds for terrorists." They said he took courses in making poisons, bombs and shooting AK-47s. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Kaster asked, if Warsame was so valueless, then why would senior al-Qaeda leaders trust him to be a security guard at the camp.
Prosecutors wanted Warsame to serve twelve and a half years; while Warsame's attorneys wanted the time already served, five and half years, to be credited toward that sentence. Judge Tunheim sentenced him to seven and a half years with credit for time served in solitary confinement. That means he'll be deported and released to Canada in less than a year.
Tunheim said that sentence was in line with other terrorism cases. He said he did not think that Warsame was involved in a plot against the U.S., but that Warsame had relationships with some of the most dangerous people on earth.
After court, Warsame's attorneys David Thomas and Andrea George said they were pleased with the sentence.
"I think Mohamed is pretty happy with it," Thomas said. "Because there is an end in sight now and the minute he is taken to Canada, he's a free man, so it's important."
The Justice Department released a statement from Assistant Attorney General for National Security, David Kris, who said he applauded the agents, analysts and prosecutors whose efforts led to this sentence. He said the Warsame case serves as a reminder of the continuing threats the nation faces."
Once Warsame serves his sentence, he will be deported back to Canada. An official spokesman with Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs says that generally when a Canadian has served his time in a foreign country, he returns with all the rights of any Canadian citizen.