A Somali-born Canadian deported from the United States for giving material support to Al Qaeda is considering making Toronto his home, his lawyer says.
Mohammed Abdullah Warsame, 37, was waiting Saturday for his American wife and children to join him in Toronto from Minneapolis, where he lived when he was taken into custody in December 2003. He used to live in Toronto in the 1990s.
“I’m quite sure his wife and children will spend some time with him in Toronto,” Warsame’s U.S. lawyer, Peter Erlinder, said in a phone interview. “I don’t know where they’ll decide to make their lives, but I’m guessing Toronto is going to be one of the options.”
Warsame was released from prison Friday and taken by U.S. authorities to the Canadian border at Windsor. He then took a taxi to Toronto, Erlinder said, and is believed to be staying with a cousin. Warsame agreed to be deported as part of a plea bargain deal that saw him plead guilty to aiding Al Qaeda.
Erlinder said Canadian authorities “have no interest in detaining him.”
Andrew Swift, a spokesperson for Public Safety Canada, said he could not comment on the case “due to privacy legislation.”
“Terrorism has no place in Canada and will not be tolerated,” Swift added in an email. “The government of Canada is committed to ensuring the safety and security of its citizens.”
U.S. prosecutors painted Warsame during court proceedings as a dangerous jihadist who, in March 2000, left his Toronto home to attend Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. They say he learned to use weapons and met Al Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden. They add he returned to Toronto in March 2001, kept email contact with Al Qaeda associates and sent $2,000 to one of his former training camp commanders.
Prosecutors say Warsame sent an email describing his time at the camps as “one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
Warsame pleaded guilty in May 2009 to giving material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Erlinder describes the plea as a bid to end what he calls Warsame’s “mistreatment” at the hands of U.S. authorities. Warsame spent 5-and-a-half years in solitary confinement during pre-trial custody. He was let out of his cell only one hour a day.
“This guy has been (psychologically) tortured,” says Erlinder, professor of constitutional law at William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota. “Sensory deprivation — the methods used to drive people mad without beating them.”
Warsame admits he attended an Al Qaeda camp. But Erlinder insists his client was mainly there to teach English to nurses working for the Taliban, recognized internationally at the time as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. The Obama encounter occurred when the Al Qaeda leader spoke at a dinner attended by 75 people, including Warsame. Erlinder adds that Warsame insists the man he sent money to was not an Al Qaeda member.
“He went there to seek (religious) enlightenment,” Erlinder says of Warsame’s time in Afghanistan. “He found that (Al Qaeda) were engaged in acts that he didn’t support and he came back before 9/11 happened.”
Warsame moved to Minnesota in early 2002. Erlinder says FBI agents violated Warsame’s rights when they took him to a military base and questioned him for days without advising him of his right to a lawyer. Later, Erlinder claims that a U.S. prosecutor offered Warsame a deal — testify against Zacarias Moussaoui in return for U.S. citizenship. (Moussaoui has since been convicted as a 9/11 co-conspirator and is serving a life sentence.) Warsame refused, insisting he never met Moussaoui.
“Because he wouldn’t perjure himself he was held in solitary confinement,” Erlinder charges, denouncing Warsame’s treatment as “just one legal abuse after another.”
“Given the legal and political climate in the U.S., having him return to Canada was the kindest thing that could possibly happen,” he adds.