The U.S. military captured a Somali terrorism suspect in the Gulf of Aden in April and interrogated him for more than two months aboard a U.S. Navy ship before flying him this week to New York, where he has been indicted on federal charges.
The case represents the Obama administration’s attempt to find a middle ground between open-ended detentions in secret prisons, as practiced by the George W. Bush administration, and its commitment to try as many terrorism cases as possible in civilian courts.
With the capture of Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, the administration appeared to split the difference, with military and intelligence officials interrogating him secretly for two months before bringing in law enforcement officials to question him for purposes of an indictment. He is the first foreign terrorism suspect captured by the administration outside the United States and moved to this country for trial.
In flying Warsame to New York before announcing his capture, the administration circumvented likely congressional objections to his transfer here. Congress has barred the administration from moving detainees held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States for trial.
The administration has increasingly utilized counterterrorism tactics, such as attacks from drone aircraft, that have killed an unprecedented number of militants. But there have been no known foreign captures outside the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones, leading critics to charge that valuable intelligence information was being lost. Some lawmakers have questioned where the administration, which has vowed to close the Guantanamo facility, would send any new detainees.
A senior administration official said that no opportunity for capture had been passed up “when the risk to U.S. personnel was deemed acceptable” and that “a long list of terrorists” had been captured by other countries as a result of U.S.-provided intelligence and other assistance.
The nine-count indictment, which was returned under seal by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York late last week, does not accuse Warsame of carrying out or plotting attacks against U.S. targets. It charges him with conspiracy and providing material support to two groups the United States considers terrorist organizations: al-Shabab, a militant Islamist group opposed to Somalia’s weak, U.S.-backed government, and Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Warsame is also accused of weapons offenses related to both alleged conspiracies; conspiracy to teach and demonstrate explosive-making; and receiving military training from AQAP.
The administration has described AQAP as the most “operationally active” affiliate of Pakistan-based al-Qaeda, responsible for the Christmas Day 2009 bombing attempt aboard a Detroit-bound airliner and last year’s cargo plane bomb plot. In recent months, administration officials have described increasing ties between AQAP and al-Shabab, and indications that al-Shabab was expanding its ambitions to target the United States and its allies.