American forces captured a leader of al-Qaeda indicted in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, ending a 15-year manhunt by seizing him in broad daylight near the Libyan capital, said U.S. officials.
The suspect, born Nazih Abd al Hamid al-Ruqhay and known as Abu Anas al-Liby has been high on the list of the U.S. government’s most-wanted fugitives since at least 2000, when a New York court indicted him for his part in planning the embassy attacks. The FBI had offered a bounty of up to $5 million for information leading to his capture.
Al-Liby was captured alive near Tripoli in a combined operation by the U.S. military, the CIA and the FBI, and was in U.S. custody, said an American official.
His capture was the latest blow to what remains of the original al-Qaeda organisation after a 12-year-old U.S. campaign to capture or kill its leadership.
Al-Liby is not believed to have played any role in the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, say senior officials briefed on that investigation, but he may have sought to build networks connecting what remains of the al-Qaeda organisation to like-minded militants in his native Libya.
Senior officials of the Libyan transitional government said they were unaware of the operation that captured him. Some vehemently insisted that their forces would play no role in any such U.S. military operation on Libyan soil.
But a senior U.S. official said the Libyan government was involved in the operation.
Disclosure of the raid is likely to inflame anxieties among many Libyans about their national sovereignty, putting a new strain on the transitional government’s fragile authority. Many Libyans already suspect that their interim Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, who previously lived in Geneva as part of the exile opposition to Muammar Qadhafi, of collaborating too closely with the West. Al-Liby (49), born in Tripoli, is believed to have joined bin Laden’s organisation as early as the early 1990s, when it was based in Sudan. He later moved to Britain, where he had been granted political asylum. U.S. prosecutors in New York charged him in a 2000 indictment with helping to conduct “visual and photographic surveillance” of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1993 and again in 1995.
In the indictment, prosecutors said he had discussed with another senior al-Qaeda figure the idea of attacking a U.S. target in retaliation for the U.S. peacekeeping operation in Somalia. After the 1998 bombing, the British police raided his apartment and found an 18-chapter terrorist training manual in Arabic. Titled “Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants”, it included advice on car bombing, torture, sabotage and disguise.
A U.S. official said al-Liby was to be brought to the U.S. for trial.
Since the overthrow of Qadhafi in 2011, Tripoli has slid steadily into lawlessness and become a haven for militants seeking to avoid detection elsewhere. American officials have acknowledged in recent months that al-Liby and other internationally wanted terrorists had been seen moving freely around the capital. His seizure was first reported on Saturday in a short online posting on Twitter by a Libyan-born counterterrorism analyst based in London, Noman Benotman.
The United States has sharply reduced its diplomatic presence in Libya since the attack that killed former Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Benghazi on Sept 11, 2012. But it maintains a robust effort there trying to study and track suspected terrorists. New York Times News Service