What we know: 10th MN man charged in ISIS probe

Abdirizak Warsame
A criminal complaint alleges Abdirizak Warsame, 20, was at one point named the leader of a group of men who planned to enlist with ISIS in Syria. He was arrested Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015.
Courtesy of Anoka County Sheriff's Office

A 20-year-old Eagan man who federal prosecutors say helped lead some of his friends to the ISIS terror group appeared in court for the first time Thursday in Minneapolis.

Abdirizak Warsame is the 10th Twin Cities man to be implicated in this case. He was charged this week with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. But Warsame has known for some time that federal authorities were interested in him. MPR News has learned that both Warsame and a younger brother were questioned by the FBI in recent years.

Here are the basics:

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What do we know about Warsame?

Warsame is friends with the men who have already been charged with trying to join ISIS. He went to school with many of them at Heritage Academy in Minneapolis. His family says he was going to Normandale Community College. In court Thursday, he said he works as a $13 an hour security guard.

Warsame is active on social media with many photos and videos of himself reciting poems. That includes a Facebook post in March where he told viewers: "I woke up one day thinking I could change the world / but I couldn't even change my ways. It's sad to say...because I was trying to build from the top. An evil man came and told me to stop."

It's not clear what inspired the poem.

What are prosecutors saying about his involvement in this case?

Prosecutors say Warsame encouraged his friends to leave for Syria and at one point became their leader. They say he gave one friend money to pay for his passport application and tried to put one of them men in touch with contacts with ISIS. The FBI thinks he would have traveled to Syria himself in last year, but his application for passport was denied.

What do we know about his family?

This is where his case gets interesting. His mother tried to protect her kids from being recruited by ISIS because she knew her sons were under scrutiny from the FBI. We've learned that the FBI questioned Warsame and his younger brother multiple times over the past few years. The family didn't feel the two boys were safe here, so they sent them to Chicago for a time to live with their father.

And his mother urged other Somali parents in Minnesota to work with federal authorities. Just two months ago, she spoke at a town hall meeting with U.S. Attorney Andy Luger and the head of the Minneapolis FBI. Deqa Hussen told community members to stop living in denial.

"I need you guys to wake up and to tell your child, 'Who's recruiting you?'" she said. "We have to stop the denial thing that we have, and we have talk to our kids and work with the FBI."

It's pretty uncommon to hear that. And it's even more intriguing now that her own son is arrested by the FBI. Here was a mother who was publicly calling for more cooperation with the FBI and trying to prevent her own kids from being recruited. And the question is, how could this happen to someone who seemed so on top of her game? And how can the community prevent more young people from falling into this trap? She used to come to these court hearings for the other ISIS defendants to show support. On Thursday, she came to see her own son who's now in federal custody.

Why was Warsame charged now, even though authorities say he began conspiring with the group since early 2014?

That's a question on the minds of many Somali community members. Some wonder if recent terror attack in San Benardino, Calif., might be prompting federal authorities to act more aggressively to stamp out extremist activity.

Andy Luger, the United States Attorney for Minnesota, said Thursday he will work hard to keep Minnesotans safe and bring the ISIS defendants to justice. But a spokesman for Luger said the timing of the arrests has nothing to do with acts of terrorism around the country and noted that the arrests of 10 men in this case have been staggered over a year.