A Somali terror suspect captured and detained by the United States has links to Anwar al-Awlaqi, a key leader of Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, a US official said Thursday.
Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, who was captured in the Gulf by the US military on April 19 and is now facing terror charges, had contacts with Awlaqi and “was a key interlocutor” between Somalia’s Shebab Islamist insurgency and Awlaqi’s Al-Qaeda outfit in Yemen, the official told AFP.
“He was a senior commander” in Shebab, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Somali national was indicted on Tuesday in a New York court on charges of providing material support to both Shebab and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, (AQAP).
Warsame, 25, faces nine counts including acting as a go-between between the two groups, providing them with both money and training between 2007 and 2011. He faces a life sentence if convicted on the terror and weapons charges.
US officials say Awlaqi, an American citizen who remains at large in Yemen, is a powerful leader of AQAP and is suspected of instigating a string of attacks against the United States, including a failed attempt to blow up a US-bound airliner.
The Saudi and Yemeni Al-Qaeda branches merged in January 2009 to form the Yemen-based AQAP.
US officials have voiced concern about deepening ties between AQAP and Shebab and that the Somali insurgency may broaden its focus to try to strike at Western targets outside of Somalia.
The Shebab rebels are locked in a protracted battle with the country’s weak, Western-backed government for control of the Horn of Africa nation.
The Shebab are currently facing an unprecedented offensive launched by the transitional government and backed by the African Union peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu.
The Shebab have suffered serious setbacks during the major offensive launched in February by the government and backed by the AU peacekeeping mission.
The US government meanwhile has defended the treatment of Warsame, who was interrogated for two months on an American warship.
US officials said Warsame provided “valuable” intelligence and that military and civilian interrogators strictly followed Army rules that prohibit abuse or torture of a detainee.