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GOP Slams Obama Administration for Bringing Somali Terror Suspect to U.S.

Al Shabab Militants

Al Shabab militants2008 AFP

Republicans are blasting the Obama administration for detaining a Somali terror suspect for two months aboard a U.S. warship before flying him to New York over the July Fourth holiday to face charges in a civilian trial.

Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, who has ties to the Al Qaeda-linked group al-Shabaab, was captured April 19 in the Horn of Africa region, possibly in Yemen. At his arraignment in New York Tuesday, he pleaded not guilty to the nine charges he's been indicted on by a federal grand jury, including providing material support to a terrorist organization.

"Why is a man who is a known terrorist and enemy of the U.S. being afforded the protection of an American citizen?" Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday. "It is truly astonishing that the administration is determined to give foreign fighters all the rights of U.S. citizens regardless of where they are captured." 

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said,"The Obama administration won't detain terrorists at a military facility in Guantanamo Bay, but they have no problem with a naval ship off the coast of Africa. Their policy toward detainees lacks common sense."

"Why is it so hard for President Obama to acknowledge what the majority of Americans already know: foreign terrorists are enemies of America," he added "They should not be tried as common criminals, but as terrorists in military commissions at Guantanamo Bay."

Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the transfer "directly contradicts congressional intent and the will of the American people."

"Congress has spoken clearly multiple times – including explicitly in pending legislation – of the perils of bringing terrorists onto U.S. soil," he said. "It is unacceptable that the administration notified Congress only after it unilaterally transferred this detainee to New York City despite multiple requests for consultation."

Republicans have long argued that foreign terror suspects should be tried in military commissions rather than civilian courts.

But the move, first reported by Fox News, offers a glimpse into how the U.S. government may handle foreign terror suspects captured overseas in the wake of the Justice Department's failed attempt to prosecute the alleged conspirators of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in a civilian court in New York City. Congress has blocked administration efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and many believe military interrogation is the most effective way to obtain valuable intelligence.

"A foreign national who fought on behalf of al Shabaab in Somali -- and who was captured by our military overseas -- should be tried in a military commission, not a federal civilian court in New York or anywhere else in our country," said Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. "While decisions on the proper tribunal should be made on a case-by-case basis, this case does not appear to be a close call."

Warsame, in his mid-20s, was interrogated "extensively" and for "some time" by military personnel, and he provided useful intelligence, according to one source. He was advised of his Miranda rights at the time, according to an administration official, but U.S. law enforcement were ultimately able to interview him, and he continued to offer useful information, according to administration officials.

Al-Shabaab has produced the first known American suicide bombers, has pledged to retaliate for the killing of Usama bin Laden and, in the words of the White House's top counterterrorism adviser, "continues to call for strikes against the United States."

Prosecutors say Warsame fought for al Shabaab in 2009 and provided weapons, communications equipment and training. In addition, he recently traveled to Yemen, where he allegedly received explosives and other military-style training and helped Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group that orchestrated the failed Christmas Day bombing in 2009 and the more recent cargo bomb plot.

According to administration officials, the decision to transfer the suspect into federal custody was unanimous, with high-level officials from the White House, Defense Department and Justice Department weighing in on the issue. Among the reasons, according to one official, was that a federal court prosecution in this case offers longer sentencing options, and there are "a number of legal issues" that would have "posed some significant litigation challenges."

During a news conference last week, President Obama said his "top priority in each and every one of these situations is to make sure that we're apprehending those who would attack the United States, that we are getting all the intelligence that we can out of these individuals in a way that's consistent with due process of law and that we ... we prosecute them in a way that's consistent with rule of law."

The U.S. government has been grappling with al-Shabaab for several years, especially in Minnesota, where many Somali-Americans live. Since September 2007, at least 20 young men have left for Somalia to train with al-Shabaab. Many of them have gone on to fight with al-Shabaab against the U.S.-backed Transitional Federal Government in Somalia and African Union troops, according to the Justice Department.

Fox News' Mike Levine and Justin Fishel contributed to this report.