ISIS supporter lied about bomb, stole airport ID, feds say

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Federal prosecutors are troubled that an Ypsilanti man amassed an arsenal of weapons and bomb components and stole a U.S. Department of Homeland Security employee's all-access pass at an airport, according to court records.

The details were revealed in a federal court filing Tuesday by prosecutors who portray Yousef Ramadan, 29, as a violent, dangerous crook obsessed with weapons and the Islamic State. The portrait clashes with defense claims that Ramadan is a law-abiding citizen merely curious about violence in the Middle East.

Prosecutors want Ramadan to remain in jail pending trial in the latest counter-terrorism case involving a Metro Detroiter accused of supporting the Islamic State. U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani will consider releasing Ramadan on bond July 10, along with defense requests to suppress evidence and statements made to investigators.

Yousef Ramadan

The filing raises questions about whether Ramadan was planning a domestic terror attack before federal agents yanked him off a flight last year at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, searched his luggage and found pepper spray, knives, a stun gun, black masks, two-way radios, a gas mask, a tactical vest and photos of a homemade pipe bomb.

"Ramadan is also a danger given his activities associated with bomb-making," Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Waterstreet wrote. "Pipe bombs have no peaceful purpose. No socially acceptable use. They are tools used to indiscriminately wound, destroy, and kill.” 

Detroit Metropolitan Airport

The case against Ramadan, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in the Palestinian territories, dates to August 2017. That's when he was removed from a Royal Jordanian Airlines flight at Detroit Metropolitan Airport before flying to Amman, Jordan, with the ultimate destination of Israel. Before the plane could depart, investigators searched his checked baggage and found the items.

Ramadan said he was a photojournalist and needed the items for personal safety.

A secondary inspection uncovered numerous electronic devices, including laptops, iPhones and storage devices. 

Investigators found videos of Ramadan shooting pistols and rifles, including a sniper rifle.

Ramadan had multiple YouTube channels. One, named “WB.88Guns,” contained seven videos posted between November 2016 and February 2017.

Investigators also found photos and videos of pipe bombs and propaganda videos and photos related to the Islamic State, including videos of fighters wearing black masks similar to those found in Ramadan’s luggage, according to FBI Special Agent Ryan Schanberger.

FBI agents showed Ramadan a photo obtained from one of his electronic devices. The photo showed what appeared to be a homemade, improvised explosive device, or pipe bomb, according to the filing.

"Ramadan said the bomb was like a large firework that would make a loud bang when detonated, and that these items were sometimes used to throw at soldiers overseas," Waterstreet wrote.

Ramadan told investigators he downloaded the bomb photo from the Internet, according to court records. But investigators analyzed metadata from the image that showed where the bomb was photographed.

"Ramadan’s home in Bethlehem, Israel," the prosecutor wrote.

Prosecutors claim Ramadan stole a federal law enforcement employee's identification.

Ramadan took pictures of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection employee's uniform and patch, government identification card, and security identification card, prosecutors allege.

"The San Diego Airport security identification card grants the holder full access to the airfield, commuter and freight aircrafts, the terminals and all ramps," Waterstreet wrote.

Ramadan also was questioned about the Islamic State propaganda videos and photos found on his electronic devices.

“Ramadan stated that he likes and watches all aspects of combat footage,” the agent wrote. “He claimed that he does support ISIS’ goal of establishing ... an Islamic State, but that he does not support their methods of violence to achieve that goal, instead preferring a peaceful approach to converting non-believers into the Muslim religion and/or forming an Islamic State.”

Investigators told Ramadan that watching violent ISIS videos could prompt him to commit a violent act.

“Ramadan responded by saying that if he ever wanted to commit an attack he certainly would not have to travel overseas to do it,” the agent wrote. “Ramadan stated that he would do it in the United States as it would be much easier to accomplish than overseas."

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 searched the storage unit Aug. 23 and found two rifles, a handgun, components of an AR-15 rifle and two semi-automatic handguns.

"Additionally, the FBI found various components that could be used to construct a bomb: black powder fireworks, wires, an electric wire tester, cell phones (used as remote electric igniters), and items that can be used as shrapnel," Waterstreet wrote.

Ramadan later was indicted on two counts of knowingly possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, a five-year felony.

Ramadan should be released from jail pending trial, his lawyer Andrew Densemo said.

"The fact that there are some American citizens who are interested in foreign affairs and political conflicts, even those which touch upon ISIS, Hamas, or Hezbollah or other anti-U.S. groups, should not trigger a knee-jerk response that these citizens are a danger to the community based on a factor as ephemeral as their birthplace," Densemo wrote in a court filing.

Ramadan has a First Amendment right to possess images depicting graphic scenes shot in war zones, Densemo wrote.

"They are no more evidence of Yousef Ramadan’s risk of flight or danger to the community than the color of his eyes," the lawyer wrote.

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