NEW YORK – A shadowy Somali citizen who was interrogated about his ties to international terrorism aboard an American U.S. warship nearly two years ago has pleaded guilty as part of a cooperation agreement, prosecutors said Monday.
Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame had been charged with providing material support to terrorist organizations, conspiring to teach and demonstrate the making of explosives and other charges. He entered the plea in December 2011 in a sealed proceeding in federal court in Manhattan.
Prosecutors didn't explain why they kept Warsame's plea secret until now. They called his case a breakthrough in how it uncovered new clues about al-Qaida in Yemen and its relationship with al-Shabab in Somalia, but provided few details.
"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," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. "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."
Warsame, who's listed as in his mid-20s, could face a potential life term, but no sentencing date was set. His last appearance in open court was in September 2011, when he pleaded not guilty.
The plea cooperation agreement calls for Warsame to tell the FBI everything he knows about terror threats and, if necessary, testify for the government before grand juries and at trials. He and his family would get federal protection if his cooperation puts them in danger, the agreement says.
A defense attorney for Warsame declined to comment Monday.
The U.S. military captured Warsame in the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen on April 19, 2011. Law enforcement agents questioned him for more than two months until he was read him Miranda rights to remain silent. He waived them and spoke to law enforcement agents for several days before being sent to New York in July 2011, prosecutors said.
Warsame was not believed to be a senior member of either terrorist organization, but court documents say he fought with and helped train al-Shabab in 2009, then played a similar roll with al-Qaida in Yemen until 2011. That made him a potentially valuable intelligence asset, since he had unique access in both groups, authorities said.
Al-Shabab controlled much of south-central Somalia from 2006 to mid-2011, when the group was ousted by African Union troops. Since then al-Shabab has been on the run.