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Terror suspect scrawled ISIS support, hid escape kit in prison, feds say

FBI agents. (Melanie Rodgers Cox/US Air Force)

A Ypsilanti man arrested by the FBI’s counterterrorism team wants out of federal prison during the COVID-19 pandemic despite being caught with an escape kit and scrawling a message of support for the Islamic State in his cell, according to prosecutors.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is fighting a bond request from Yousef Ramadan, 31, who is among a growing list of inmates seeking release from federal prisons nationwide while citing risk factors that leave them susceptible to the virus.

In a bid to keep Ramadan jailed, prosecutors have released a multimedia cache of videos and photos seized from Ramadan that show the unemployed security guard flashing weapons, firing guns and expressing support for ISIS. The evidence also includes a photo of what prosecutors called a homemade, improvised explosive device, or pipe bomb, built by Ramadan.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Salzenstein, Ramadan is lying about his health issues and should remain in prison pending trial on weapons charges that could send him to prison for more than 10 years. Also, he is dangerous and a flight risk, Salzenstein added.

“Ramadan is a proven liar who has little respect for the law and who engaged in criminal activity while on probation,” Salzenstein wrote in a court filing. “…Ramadan’s fabricated medical conditions and speculative concerns about possible future transmission while in detention do not overcome the obvious risk of danger and nonappearance that Ramadan poses.”

Ramadan suffers from chronic asthma and diabetes and could be released on bond to live with his sister near Detroit while wearing a GPS tether, his lawyer, Richard Korn, wrote in a court filing.

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts will consider releasing Ramadan during a hearing Wednesday.

Ramadan has spent almost three years in prison after being arrested by the members of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. He was removed from a Royal Jordanian Airlines flight in August 2017 at Detroit Metropolitan Airport after investigators searched his checked baggage and found body armor, ammunition pouches, rifle scopes, knives, and other paramilitary equipment.

Ramadan, his wife and four children were flying on one-way tickets to Jordan.

Investigators searched the electronic storage devices and found videos of Ramadan shooting pistols and rifles, including a sniper rifle. They 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 court records.

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 stated that it 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,” an investigator wrote.

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.

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.

“Ramadan stated that even if his weapons were confiscated, he could simply buy more weapons off the street…,” the agent added. “Ramadan further stated that a domestic attack would still be viewed and praised as a huge victory by ISIS.”

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 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.

Recent court filings offer insight into Ramadan’s life since being jailed at the federal prison in Milan and support the government’s contention that he is dangerous, Salzenstein wrote.

“Even after he was detained, Ramadan scrawled ‘Islamic Caliphate’ in Arabic on the wall of his cell at the (Milan Detention Center), showing his continued support for ISIS,” the prosecutor wrote.

Ramadan is an “unmitigated flight risk,” Salzenstein wrote. His wife and children have left the country, Ramadan is unemployed and faces deportation following the criminal case.

“There is nothing keeping Ramadan here,” Salzenstein wrote. “And, he has already been caught with escape paraphernalia in his cell at Milan — a black ski mask, a black thermal shirt…, and a green duffel bag (which is used by escapees to lay across the barbed wire as they attempt to climb over the prison fence).”

The bag did not contain an escape kit, Ramadan’s lawyer said.

A Milan correctional officer gave Ramadan the bag to haul legal documents, Korn wrote. The black ski mask and thermal shirt were in the bag when it was given to Ramadan.

“It is (Ramadan’s) position that he was set up by the correctional officer and that he never had the intent to escape from the detention center,” Korn wrote.

Ramadan is not lying about his health issues and has no place to flee, the lawyer added.

“In view of the charges in this case and the allegations of the government regarding ISIS,” Korn wrote, “(Ramadan) fears that should he return to Israel or Jordan, he will be tortured and possibly killed.”


© 2020 The Detroit News