Alleged ISIS conspirator said to have bragged about ability to take down MSP planes

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

Updated: 9:40 p.m. | Posted: 5:52 p.m.

At a court hearing Tuesday, federal prosecutors said a young Twin Cities man accused of supporting the terror group ISIS once bragged that he had the ability to make homemade rockets that could take down airplanes at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

An FBI agent testified that 20-year-old Abdirizak Warsame of Eagan was recorded making the boast to Guled Omar and a friend who was secretly working as an informant for the government.

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Omar and five of his friends were arrested in April amid allegations that they had been planning to join ISIS.

FBI Special Agent Daniel Higgins said Warsame, Omar and the informant watched a propaganda video about a "tank hunter" who used rocket-propelled grenades. "The defendant indicated the desire to take the same role," Higgins said.

The agent further testified that Warsame, who worked as a baggage handler at the airport, allegedly said he had "tubes at home" and was capable of building a rocket that could reach an airplane at an altitude of 2,000 feet.

Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, confirmed to MPR News that Warsame worked at the Twin Cities airport for several months starting in December 2013. He first worked for a company that deices planes, Integrated Deicing Services, and then got a job for Swissport International, a company that handles fuel.

Airport officials said they screen job applicants against federal databases, and there was nothing in Warsame's background that would cause them to deny granting him a security badge.

Last month, Warsame was one of dozens of people who appeared in the same courtroom to show support for other ISIS defendants arrested in April.

On Dec. 9, FBI agents arrested Warsame at his home for conspiring to provide material support to ISIS. He became the tenth Minnesota man to face ISIS-related charges in the ongoing terrorism investigation within the past year.

This is the first time the government has described in court how one of the alleged Minnesota ISIS defendants might carry out an act of terrorism in the U.S. Authorities said Warsame made those comments on April 2, two weeks before six of his friends were arrested on similar charges.

In a cross examination, Higgins said there's no evidence that Warsame had tried to make rockets or has done anything illegal since his friends were arrested earlier this year.

Attorney Robert Sicoli questioned the timing of Warsame's arrest and asked prosecutors why the government didn't apprehend his client in April with the others.

"The only reason detention is being recommended in this case is the politics of the situation," Sicoli said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter denied the case has anything to do with politics. "It's about the evidence," he said.

He added that Warsame temporarily acted as the leader of the group, encouraged his friends to join ISIS and provided money to one defendant for his passport application.

Sicoli conceded Warsame had a passport of his own since August 2014, but the Minneapolis defense attorney said Warsame didn't attempt to leave the country even when several of his friends allegedly purchased flight tickets and planned to travel to Syria to join ISIS.

"He didn't go anywhere. Why [arrest him] now?" Sicoli said. "He had the opportunity, but he didn't do it."

Warsame's mother, Deqa Hussen, also questioned the government's portrayal of her son after Winter said Warsame uses drugs and had smoked marijuana the day before his arrest.

"My son doesn't use drugs," said an emotional Hussen. "He never used drugs."

Sicoli argued for home detention for his client and said Warsame's family has tried to shield their sons from the lure of ISIS, and that they have cooperated with the FBI and the Minnesota U.S. attorney's office.

When the son of a family that was fighting against the ISIS recruitment is arrested, "I think it's counterproductive to what we are trying to do," he said. "He's someone that should be released."

U.S. Magistrate Judge Becky Thorson said there's a probable cause to continue to hold Warsame on conspiracy charges. The case will be referred to a grand jury to consider an indictment.