A Somali man who was captured at sea and interrogated by the U.S. in 2011 admitted aiding terrorist groups including al Shabaab and an al-Qaeda branch, federal prosecutors said.
Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame pleaded guilty in December 2011 to a nine-count indictment charging him with conspiring to provide money, equipment and other resources to the groups, which are designated by the U.S. as foreign terrorist organizations, prosecutors said in a statement. The plea was unsealed yesterday in federal court in Manhattan.
In another terrorism case, a New York man who flew to Pakistan allegedly to join the Taliban or al-Qaeda was found guilty yesterday by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, of lying to U.S. agents about the reasons for his trip.
Warsame was captured by the U.S. military in the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen in April 2011 and was questioned by the U.S. for more than two months, according to the statement. By the time he entered his plea, Warsame, who authorities said is in his mid-20s, had agreed to cooperate with the U.S., prosecutors said.
“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,” Manhattan 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.”
Lee Alan Ginsberg, a lawyer for Warsame, declined to comment on the plea.
Warsame faces a maximum sentence of life in prison along with fines and other penalties, according to his plea agreement. Under his cooperation arrangement with the government, Warsame had agreed to disclose all foreign intelligence known to him. In exchange, the government said it would seek leniency at sentencing.
Warsame is accused of conspiring with terrorist groups dating back to at least 2007. He is alleged to have worked to broker a weapons deal between al Shabaab and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and to have planned to provide training in making explosives, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction, according to the indictment.
From 2010 to April 2011, Warsame received training in explosives-making from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and intended to share the information with al Shabaab when he returned to Somalia, according to prosecutors.
U.S. military forces captured Warsame while he was traveling back to Somalia, prosecutors said. While in Yemen, he had possessed and used grenades and an AK-47 assault weapon to commit crimes of violence, the U.S. alleged.
At the time of Warsame’s capture, U.S. officials seized a laptop computer, a hard drive, two USB thumb drives and a memory card, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Benjamin Naftalis and Adam Hickey wrote in a July 2011 letter to U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was formed in January 2009 and operates primarily from Yemen and Saudi Arabia, prosecutors said in an August 2011 court filing. The group claimed responsibility for an attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound plane from Europe in 2009, according to the filing.
In the Brooklyn trial, Abdel Hameed Shehadeh, 23, was convicted of three counts of making false statements. Jurors found terrorism was involved in two of the instances.
Prosecutors alleged that Shehadeh’s objective for the journey was to wage “violent jihad” while he later told agents he had intended to attend a religious school, a wedding and an engagement party.
Shehadeh was denied entry into Pakistan when he arrived in June 2008 and immediately returned. Federal agents kept in contact with Shehadeh for more than two years after the event, at one time leading him to believe, falsely, that he was working as a government informant.
A lawyer for Shehadeh, Frederick Cohn, argued during the trial that his client was manipulated and that any statements he made about his trip were immaterial.
The jury “took a great deal of time and more care than I expected” in reaching its decision, Cohn said to reporters after the verdict was read. The jury of five men and seven women began deliberating March 22.
Shehadeh faces a maximum sentence of 21 years in prison.
During the trial, which lasted about a week, witnesses testifying for the prosecution included law enforcement agents and two of Shehadeh’s friends who described his interest in violent jihad.
“As you heard, the defendant wanted to go and be a martyr,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Sarratt told jurors in closing arguments on March 22.
A New York native from Staten Island, Shehadeh attracted the attention of U.S. authorities when he purchased a one-way ticket to Islamabad, according to court documents. Agents first confronted him at John F. Kennedy International Airport before his plane left and then checked in with him regularly.
After his failed trip to Pakistan, Shehadeh made other attempts to fight on behalf of terrorist groups, a federal agent told jurors during the trial. He tried flying to Amman, Jordan, where he was denied entry, and bought tickets to Dubai, which he couldn’t use because he had been placed on the “No Fly” list, the government said.
Prosecutors alleged that Shehadeh also attempted to join the U.S. Army so he could turn his gun on fellow soldiers in the battlefield. He was rejected because he failed to disclose the Pakistan trip in his travel history, according to court filings.
During the trial, jurors were shown violent messages and images of al-Qaeda leaders from websites Shehadeh ran that the government was also investigating. One of the sites, www.civiljihad.com, displayed a logo that appeared to drip with blood.
No witnesses were called on behalf of Shehadeh. For much of the proceeding, he sat calmly next to his lawyers in khaki jail attire, which he chose to wear even after U.S. District Judge Eric N. Vitaliano said he could have other clothing given to him for the trial.
His face showed no reaction when the verdict was read.
“He’s a realist,” Cohn said after the verdict, commenting on his client’s demeanor. “He knew from the beginning that this was going to be difficult.”
The cases are U.S. v. Warsame, 11-cr-00559, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan), and U.S. v. Shehadeh, 10-cr-01020, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).