A member of the al Shababh terror group in Somalia was secretly brought to the U.S. early Tuesday to stand trial in federal court, after spending weeks revealing "valuable intelligence information" about al-Qaida's operations in Somalia and Yemen, senior U.S. officials said Tuesday.
Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a native of Somalia, was captured April 19 in the Persian Gulf region by the U.S. military and held secretly on a Navy ship at sea, where he was questioned at length by a team of U.S. interrogators.
"He gave us very valuable intelligence," one official said.
The officials declined to say where the capture took place.
Administration officials said Warsame was in a special position to reveal details about al-Qaida's operations in both Somalia and Yemen. They describe him as a go-between for the two groups and said he spent the past year in Yemen.
"The information he provided has been used to get a better understanding of what we're up against" involving al-Qaida in Yemen, one official said.
Months of questioning at sea
In documents made public Tuesday as the indictment against Warsame was unsealed, federal prosecutors explained that he was questioned for two months aboard the U.S. Navy ship.
"During this period, the defendant was interviewed on all but a daily basis," the letter said.
After a four-day break, "the defendant was advised of his Miranda rights and, after waiving those rights, spoke to law enforcement agents" for another week, the letter said. The Miranda warning advises suspects of their right to remain silent and to have an attorney represent them.
Warsame was brought to New York City early Tuesday morning and appeared later in the day before a federal judge in Manhattan to face terrorism charges.
He was accused of providing money, weapons, advice and training to the two terrorist groups. He faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted. Nothing in the charges suggests that he had any direct role in specific al-Qaida plots.
"He would teach and demonstrate the making and use of explosives and destructive devices," according to the indictment.
Renewed political struggle?
The senior officials said the decision to bring Warsame to the U.S. to stand trial in a civilian court was unanimous among federal agencies, including the Defense Department.
Many members of Congress have been critical of the Obama administration for bringing terrorism suspects to the U.S. to stand trial, instead of declaring them enemy combatants and trying them before military commissions.
This spring, political opposition foiled the administration's plans to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a federal court in New York. Attorney General Eric Holder instead said the cases of Mohammed and four other suspects would be referred to miltary commissions.
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was harshly critical last month of a Justice Department decision to try two terrorism suspects in his state.
"The place for foreign terrorists and terror trials is in the secure detention facility at Guantanamo Bay — not in U.S. communities and civilian courtrooms. There is wide, bipartisan opposition to giving the rights of U.S. citizens to men who tried to kill our troops on the battlefield," said McConnell, the Senate minority leader.
Pete Williams is senior justice correspondent for NBC News. Jonathan Dienst is WNBC's chief investigative reporter.