An FBI photograph of Abu Anas al-Liby
Oct. 6: American troops assisted by FBI and CIA agents have seized a suspected leader of al Qaida on the streets of Tripoli at dawn, ending a 15-year manhunt and prompting Libya to ask the US authorities to explain the raid.
The militant, born Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai and known by his nom de guerre, Abu Anas al-Liby, had been indicted in 2000 for his role in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Abu Anas had a $5-million bounty on his head.
He was considered a major prize, and officials said he was alive in US custody. While the details about his capture were sketchy, an American official said on Saturday night that he appeared to have been taken peacefully and that he was “no longer in Libya”.
His capture was the latest blow to what remains of the original Qaida organisation after a 12-year American campaign to capture or kill its leadership, including the killing two years ago of its founder, Osama bin Laden, in Pakistan.
Despite his presence in Libya, Abu Anas was not believed to have played any role in the 2012 attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, senior officials briefed on that investigation have said. But he may have sought to build networks connecting what remains of the Qaida organisation to like-minded militants in Libya.
His brother, Nabih, told The Associated Press that just after dawn prayers, three vehicles full of armed men had approached Abu Anas’s home and surrounded him as he parked his car. The men smashed his window, seized his gun and sped away with him, the brother said.
A senior American official said the Libyan government had been apprised of the operation and provided assistance, but it was unclear in what capacity.
But a statement from the office of Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said today: “The government has contacted US authorities to ask them to provide an explanation. The Libyan government is following the news of the kidnapping of a Libyan citizen who is wanted by US authorities.”
Asked if American forces had ever conducted raids inside Libya or collaborated with Libyan forces, Mehmoud Abu Bahia, assistant to the defence minister, replied: “Absolutely not.”
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 Libyan Islamists already accuse Zeidan, who previously lived in Geneva as part of the exiled Opposition to Muammar Gaddafi, of collaborating too closely with the West.
Abu Anas, 49, was born in Tripoli and joined bin Laden’s organisation as early as the early 1990s, when it was based in Sudan. He later moved to Britain, where he was granted political asylum as a Libyan dissident.
US prosecutors in New York charged him in a 2000 indictment with helping to conduct “visual and photographic surveillance” of the American embassy in Nairobi in 1993 and again in 1995.
Prosecutors said in the indictment that Abu Anas had discussed with another senior Qaida figure the idea of attacking an American target in retaliation for the US peacekeeping operation in Somalia.
After the 1998 bombing, the British police raided his apartment and found an 18-chapter terrorist training manual. Written in Arabic and titled “Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants,” it included advice on car bombing, torture, sabotage and disguise.
Since the overthrow of Gaddafi, Tripoli has slid steadily into lawlessness, with no strong central government. It has become a safe haven for militants seeking to avoid detection elsewhere. US government officials have acknowledged in recent months that Abu Anas and other wanted terrorists had been seen moving freely around Tripoli.
The operation to capture Abu Anas was several weeks in the making, a US official said, and President Barack Obama was regularly briefed as the suspect was tracked in Tripoli.