Terror suspect wanted to join ISIS, feds say
Detroit — An Ypsilanti man yanked off an airplane at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in August said he wanted to join the Islamic State and tried to slip his wife a computer hard drive before being interrogated by FBI agents, according to federal court records.
Details surrounding the arrest of Yousef Ramadan were outlined in a federal court filing Tuesday as prosecutors fought the man’s attempt to suppress evidence seized by the FBI’s counter-terrorism team.
The evidence fight, and accidentally unsealed search warrant records, help explain the roots of a counterterrorism investigation and revealed allegations that Ramadan, 29, built homemade pipe bombs, watched terrorist propaganda videos and boasted that committing a terrorist attack in the U.S. was easy compared to overseas.
The filing Tuesday describes the airport encounter that led federal agents to search Ramadan’s luggage and discover body-armor plates, pepper spray, knives, a stun gun, black masks, two-way radios, a gas mask, a tactical vest and hard drives containing Islamic State propaganda and videos of pipe bombs.
“When asked about those items, Ramadan stated that he supported ISIS but not its violence,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Waterstreet wrote in the filing Tuesday. “He claimed that he only built pipe bombs while overseas, not in the United States, and that he only built them for ‘educational purposes.’ He said that he wanted to join ISIS but did not want his family to suffer for it.”
Ramadan, who is a U.S. citizen, a former security guard and married father of four, is being held without bond at the federal prison in Milan. He is charged with two weapons offenses that carry 10-year prison sentences.
Federal agents encountered Ramadan and his family at the airport Aug. 15 when he paid cash for one-way tickets to Jordan.
Transportation Security Administration agents put the family’s luggage through an X-ray machine but discovered the device could not see through one of the duffel bags, according to the court filing.
Investigators opened the bag.
“Inside, they found body armor plates for a bulletproof vest,” Waterstreet wrote.
Officers went to Ramadan’s departure gate but learned the family had boarded the Royal Jordanian Airlines plane.
They escorted Ramadan off the plane and told him he would need to talk about the items found in his luggage and that he probably would miss the flight.
Ramadan’s wife and children were free to fly to Jordan, officers told him.
Ramadan said he needed to give his wife medication so officers escorted him back on the plane.
“But, instead of handing his wife medication, Ramadan tried to slip a hard drive into her purse,” the prosecutor wrote. “The officers caught him in the act and confiscated the hard drive. Then they escorted Ramadan and his entire family off the plane.”
Officers manually reviewed some of the hard drives from Ramadan’s luggage.
“On those hard drives, they found ISIS propaganda, including several videos,” the prosecutor wrote. “They found videos of Ramadan shooting weapons such as sniper rifles. They also found videos and pictures of pipe bombs.”
Officers searched more than a dozen pieces of luggage belonging to Ramadan and found a black mask, two types of ballistic armor, a stun gun, a rifle scope, ammunition pouches, gun holsters, gun parts, knives, a gas mask, an aerial drone and various survival gear, according to court records.
They also found six hard drives, other computer devices and iPhones.
While being questioned, Ramadan said the family was moving to Palestine and said he was a photographer who wanted to film the Palestinian conflict. Then, he said he worked in construction, got angry and refused to answer questions or give officers the password so they could search his phone, according to the filing.
Ramadan told FBI agents he owned three weapons, including two rifles and a Glock pistol he had placed in a storage unit before arriving at the airport. Ramadan, however, did not disclose owning another pistol that was registered to him, the agent wrote.
He acknowledged owning the items found in the luggage and said he bought the items for personal protection and for making YouTube videos. One YouTube channel, named “WB.88Guns,” shows an individual shooting or handling various types of firearms, including a sniper rifle.
Days after questioning Ramadan at the airport and preventing him from flying overseas, the FBI’s counter-terrorism unit sought a search warrant for Ramadan’s storage unit in Ann Arbor.
Agents were hunting for weapons, bomb components, Islamic State propaganda, terrorism-related information and a motive that would explain why Ramadan possessed explosives, according to the search warrant affidavit.
Based on Ramadan’s comments and evidence found on his electronic devices, there was probable cause that he had violated federal laws, including possession of a destructive device and receiving unlicensed explosive materials, according to court records.
On Aug. 23, a federal magistrate judge approved a search warrant for the storage unit. Agents raided the storage unit that day and found two rifles, a handgun, components of an AR-15 rifle and two semi-automatic handguns.
Investigators also found ammunition, fireworks and a homemade silencer, according to the court filing.
The search of electronic devices found in the luggage was warrantless and investigators lacked suspicion, his defense lawyers Andrew Densemo and Colleen Fitzharris wrote in an earlier court filing.
The searches were legal and officers did not need reasonable suspicion at the international border, Waterstreet wrote Tuesday.
“Longstanding precedent permitted the officers to search Ramadan’s bags, hard drives, and the other electronic media that he was carrying at the international border,” he wrote. Even if reasonable suspicion was required, Ramadan’s ballistic armor and his attempt to conceal evidence provided it.”
The prosecutor denied Ramadan’s earlier claim that investigators assaulted him.