MINNEAPOLIS – A terror suspect who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support and resources to Al Qaeda could serve a little less than a year in prison and then be deported to Canada.
U.S. District John R. Tunheim sentenced Mohammed Abdullah Warsame on Thursday to seven years and eight months in prison, but gave him credit for the time he has already spent in custody. With credit for good behavior, Warsame could be out of prison in about 10 months.
Warsame, 35, has spent over 5 1/2 years in solitary confinement in Minnesota. His attorneys were hoping for a sentence of only the time he has already served.
Prosecutors had sought a sentence of 12 1/2 years. U.S. Attorney Frank Magill issued a statement saying the sentence shows that "those who knowingly provide support to terrorists will be held accountable for their actions."
In his plea agreement, Warsame admitted to conspiring with others to help al-Qaida beginning in 2000. Authorities claim he attended an Al Qaeda training camp run by Osama bin Laden, dined with the terrorist leader, attended another camp and fought with the Taliban.
Warsame's uncle, Abdullah Warsame, said that Warsame's wife left the courtroom in tears after he was sentenced. "I was not expecting this," Abdullah Warsame said. "We expected the time served ... considering his hardship."
He said his nephew went to Afghanistan before the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, at a time when the U.S. was negotiating with the Taliban, not fighting them. He said Warsame has not had physical contact with another person for nearly six years, and when his wife visited she could see him only over a video screen.
"I suffered, and suffered, and suffered a mountain-load of suffering," Warsame said in a letter read by his attorney, David Thomas, that described his time in solitary confinement at the prison in Oak Park Heights.
Tunheim said that even after 5 1/2 years and hundreds of documents, Warsame remained a bit of a mystery — a man prosecutors claimed was a dangerous terrorist but defense attorneys said was a simple man who sought a Utopian society.
Tunheim said that as he decided on a sentence, he studied other cases with convictions on terror-related charges. Those with the lightest sentences cooperated with authorities, but he said it's clear that Warsame hasn't revealed all he knows.
"Certainly you had access to, and relationships with, the most dangerous individuals on earth," Tunheim said.
On the other hand, the judge said, there was no evidence that Warsame was involved in direct acts of terrorism. In the end, Tunheim said the sentence was sufficient and reflected the seriousness of the crime.
Tunheim said that once deported, Warsame — a Canadian citizen of Somali descent — would only be allowed to return to the United States with the permission of federal authorities. A Canadian spokesman was not immediately available to comment.
Defense attorney Andrea George said other fighters in the camps in Afghanistan viewed Warsame as ineffective and awkward. She told the court to remember who was being sentenced.
"You are not here today to sentence Al Qaeda. You are not here today to sentence Osama bin Laden," she said. "The government seeks to drape the blood of Al Qaeda on the shoulders of Mohammed Warsame."
Prosecutors claim that after training in Afghanistan, Warsame returned to Canada in spring 2001 then relocated to Minneapolis.
Federal prosecutor Joseph Kaster argued that even after the Sept. 11 attacks, he stayed in contact with associates in Afghanistan. Once he even sent back money.
"He may not have been a born soldier ... but what he had, he offered," Kaster said. "He offered himself."
Warsame's defense attorneys said their client was relieved to have the trial over.
"I think that Mohammed realizes that in some of the things that he did, he flirted with some danger and he paid for it," Thomas said.