WASHINGTON — A Somali suspect who was captured at sea two years ago and interrogated aboard a U.S. warship has pleaded guilty to aiding terrorist groups Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, federal prosecutors said, a success for the Obama administration’s efforts to use criminal courts rather than military tribunals to prosecute terrorism.
Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame pleaded guilty to nine counts in December 2011 but the plea was sealed until Monday. He could be sentenced to life in prison.
The U.S. military captured Warsame on a boat sailing from Somalia to Yemen in April 2011, and U.S. intelligence agencies questioned him for more than two months aboard a Navy vessel. He was then read his Miranda rights and after waiving those rights, he spoke to law enforcement agents for several days before he was taken to New York in July 2011, officials said.
By the time he entered his plea, Warsame had agreed to cooperate with U.S. authorities, prosecutors said.
The case marks the third time this month that the administration has brought a terrorism case into civilian court. A Nigerian man allegedly involved with Al Qaeda was indicted by a grand jury in Brooklyn last week, and Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law was named in a separate indictment unsealed in New York on March 7.
Republican critics in Congress argue that foreign terror suspects should be subject to interrogations for intelligence purposes and should be tried by military commissions at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Warsame “served as a critical link between two foreign terrorist organizations and was an operational terrorist leader, commanding hundreds of fighters,” John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement.
“The capture of Ahmed Warsame and his lengthy interrogation for intelligence purposes, followed by his thorough questioning by law enforcement agents, was an intelligence watershed,” added Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan. “The handling of Warsame represents a seamless orchestration by our military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies that significantly furthered our ability to find, fight and apprehend those who wish to do us harm.”
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