July 5, 2011 — -- After secretly holding and interrogating a Somali man captured off the coast of Africa for two months, the United States indicted him, claiming he was a liaison between terrorist groups.
The Somali man, Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, believed to be in his mid-20s, is a top leader in the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab terrorist group in Somalia who has been acting as a go-between with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the U.S. Justice Department alleged in an indictment Tuesday.
AQAP is a Yemen-based group blamed in a failed Christmas day bombing of a U.S. airliner in 2009 and a plot to blow up cargo aircraft in 2010.
The nine-count federal indictment filed in New York accuses Warsame of conspiracy, providing material support to al Shabaab and AQAP, carrying firearms in furtherance in crimes of violence, conspiracy to teach and demonstrate the making of explosives and receiving military training from AQAP.
If convicted of all the offenses, Warsame could face life in prison.
Warsame has been held on a U.S. Navy vessel and interrogated for intelligence purposes since he was captured by U.S. Special Forces as he allegedly was returning to Somalia from Yemen on April 19, 2011.
Warsame was flown into the United States late on Monday night and made a brief court appearance Tuesday after the indictment was unsealed against him, according to officials.
Warsame urged al Shabaab to undertake operations outside of Somalia, according to U.S. counterterrorism and law enforcement officials.
Warsame provided support to Al Shabaab from at least 2007 until his capture, fighting for the group in 2009, according to the indictment, which alleges, "In or about 2010 and 2011, an on behalf of al Shabaab, Warsame received explosives and other training from AQAP while in Yemen."
Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York said in a prepared statement, "As alleged, Ahmed Warsame was a conduit between al Shabaab and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- two deadly terrorist organizations -- providing material support to them both."
Although al Shabaab is engaged in heavy fighting in Somalia's ongoing civil war, its only known operation outside of Somalia is 2010's bombings in Uganda that killed 74 people who were watching the World Cup finals.
The U.S. High Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) questioned Warsame for intelligence purposes for more than two months before he was read his Miranda rights. The HIG is a group of interrogation experts composed of experts from the CIA, FBI and Defense Department and other security agencies.
A letter filed with the U.S. District Court by the U.S. Attorney's office in New York noted, "The defendant was interviewed on an all but a daily basis by certain United States officials, who were acting in a non-law enforcement capacity. Thereafter, there was a substantial break from any questioning of the defendant, of four days. After this break the defendant was advised of his Miranda rights and, after waiving those rights, spoke to law enforcement agents."
The letter noted Warsame then was interviewed by FBI agents for seven days.
Following the failed bombing in December 2009 of Northwest flight 253 by Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab, there has been extensive debate between politicians on Capitol Hill and the Obama administration about reading terrorism suspects their Miranda rights.
Holding Warsame on the Navy vessel before charging him in a U.S. court could be a way to show the administration is capable of moving forward with terrorist trials for detainees captured overseas.
The Joint Special Operations Command's Vice Admiral William McRaven said at his Senate confirmation hearing last week that terror suspects are held on Navy ships until further actions are taken.
"That is always a difficult issue for us," McRaven said. "In many cases, we will put them on a naval vessel and we will hold them until we can either get a case to prosecute them in U.S. court ... or we can return him to a third party country. ... If we can't do either one of those, then we'll release that individual and that becomes the unenviable option, but it is an option."
According to officials briefed on the operation, there was another individual seized with Warsame who was released after it was determined he was not involved with Warsame. Details of that individual or his identity were unknown.
U.S. officials and Western security officials have been concerned about al Shabaab since it is believed approximately 30 to 40 young Somali men from the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom traveled to Somalia to fight with the group.
The probe into the youths going to fight overseas in Somalia's war received increased attention from the FBI and DHS officials after Shirwa Ahmed, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia, blew himself up in a suicide bombing in northern Somalia in October 2008 in an attack that targeted a African Union intelligence post. A second young man from the Seattle area blew himself up in an attack in 2009. And the FBI confirmed that a third U.S. person was involved in a suicide bombing earlier this year in Somalia against African Union security forces.
The continuing conflict in Somalia and al Shabaab's apparent desire to carry out attacks outside of Somalia has many officials concerned about the reach of the terror group. A State Department report released last year mentioned the concern about the training camps in the country.
"[Shabaab's] leaders have founded and support a number of training camps in southern Somalia for young national and international recruits to al-Shabaab," the report said. "In these camps, AQ-affiliated foreign fighters often lead the training and indoctrination of the recruits."