The Somali terror suspect transferred this week to a New York City federal court spent "significant time" with American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, a U.S. official told Fox News.
Ahmed Warsame, described as a senior commander with the Al Qaeda franchise known as al-Shabaab, was in Yemen for one year, Fox News has learned. While there, he met with Awlaki to "build bridges and a closer relationship" between al-Shabaab and the Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, the official said.
Warsame was on his way back from Yemen when he was picked up in the Gulf of Aden in April during a U.S. military operation.
Awlaki's contact with the senior al-Shabaab leader is another indicator, according to U.S. officials, that the first American on the CIA's kill-or-capture list has reached "the upper echelons" of the group in Yemen -- which is seen as the most operational and global franchise within Al Qaeda. Its primary goal is to launch attacks on the United States.
The contact between Awlaki and Warsame is now part of a growing body of evidence that the two franchises are working to develop a closer union. As one U.S. official told Fox News, "Al Qaeda in Yemen wants to be global and is in an expansive frame of mind. Al-Shabaab is physically close and a natural partner to work with."
As Fox News has previously reported, U.S. officials say they are seeing jihadists from Pakistan traveling to Yemen -- which is seen as lawless and without a government since the Yemeni president left the country after he was wounded in a mortar attack.
Meanwhile, the circumstances surrounding Warsame's capture continue to stir controversy in Washington. Republicans criticized the Obama administration this week for bringing the suspect up on charges in a civilian court after he was detained on a U.S. warship.
"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.
National Correspondent Catherine Herridge's first book "The Next Wave: On the Hunt for al Qaeda's American Recruits" was published by Crown on June 21. It draws on her reporting for Fox News into al-Awlaki and his new generation of recruits -- Al Qaeda 2.0. New evidence shows the cleric was an overlooked key player in the 9/11 attacks who double crossed federal investigators.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.