Top Qaeda leader nabbed in US raid in Libya

Written by New York Times | Published:October 6, 2013 12:45 am

A day after American commandos carried out raids in two African countries aimed at capturing fugitive terrorist suspects,Libya’s interim government on Sunday demanded an explanation from Washington for what it called the “kidnapping” of a Libyan suspect.

On Saturday,American troops assisted by FBI and CIA agents seized Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai,known by his nom de guerre,Abu Anas al-Liby,a suspected leader of al-Qaeda,on the streets of Tripoli,Libya,while a Navy SEAL team raided the seaside villa of a militant leader in a predawn firefight on the coast of Somalia.

Abu Anas was indicted in 2000 for his role in the 1998 bombings of the United States Embassies in Konya and Tanzania and had a $5 million bounty on his head.

Officials said the timing of the two raids was coincidental. But occurring on the same day,they underscored the rise of northern Africa as a haven for international terrorists. Libya has collapsed into the control of a patchwork of militias since the ouster of the Gaddafi government in 2011. Somalia,the birthplace of the Shabab,has lacked an effective central government for more than two decades.

Abu Anas,the Libyan Qaeda leader,was considered a major prize,and officials said he was alive in American custody. While the details about his capture were sketchy,an American official said on Saturday night that it appeared he had been taken peacefully and that he was “no longer in Libya.”

His capture was the latest blow to what remains of the original Qaeda 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.

But on Sunday,Libya’s government called for more information regarding the American operation. “As soon as it heard the reports,the Libyan government contacted the United States authorities to demand an explanation” for “the kidnapping of a Libyan citizen,” the government said in a statement.

The demand appeared to contradict the statements of American officials on Saturday that the Libyan government had played some role in the seizure of Abu Anas. By noon,calls had begun for street protests against the raid or against the interim government for allowing it.

A Pentagon spokesman,George Little,defended the raid. “These actions are a clear sign that the United States is committed to using all the tools at our disposal to bring to justice those who commit terrorist acts against Americans,” he said.

Despite his presence in Libya,Abu Anas was not believed to have played any role in the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi,senior officials briefed on that investigation have said,but he may have sought to build networks connecting what remains of the Qaeda organisation to like-minded militants in Libya.

His brother Nabih told The Associated Press that just after dawn prayers on Saturday,three vehicles full of armed men 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,Nabih said.

Abu Anas,49,was born in Tripoli and joined Qaeda as early as the early 1990s,when it was based in Sudan.

The operation to capture Abu Anas was several weeks in the making,a US official said,and Obama was briefed regularly as the suspect was tracked in Tripoli. Obama had to approve the capture.

American officials said they would be questioning Abu Anas for several weeks. But they did not dispute that New York,where an indictment is pending against him,was most likely his ultimate destination.

In Somalia,the SEAL team emerged before sunrise from the Indian Ocean and exchanged gunfire with militants at the home of a senior leader of the Shabab,a Somali militant group. The raid was planned more than a week ago,officials said,after a massacre by the Shabab at a shopping mall in Nairobi,Konya,that killed more than 60 people two weeks ago. The SEAL team was forced to withdraw before it could confirm that it had killed the Shabab leader,a senior American security official said. Officials declined to identify the target.

The raid in Somalia was the most significant since commandos killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan,a Qaeda mastermind,near the same coastal town four years ago. The town,Baraawe,a small port south of Mogadishu,is known as a gathering place for the Shabab’s foreign fighters.

A senior Somali government official said,“The attack was carried out by the American forces,and the Somali government was pre-informed.”

A spokesman for the Shabab said that one of its fighters had been killed in an exchange of gunfire but that the group had beaten back the assault. A US official said the Americans “disengaged after inflicting some Shabab casualties.” It was not clear what role,if any,the target of the American assault had played in the attack on the Nairobi mall.

Abu Anas al-Liby

* The militant was born Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai and is known as Abu Anas al-Liby.

* Had a $5 million bounty on his head.

* Capture ends a 15-year manhunt.

Al-Qaeda link

* Abu Anas,49,was born in Tripoli and joined Qaeda in the 1990s,when it was based in Sudan.

* Later moved to Britain,where he was granted political asylum as a Libyan dissident. He returned to Libya a year before the uprising against Gaddafi.

* He was believed to be a computer specialist with Qaeda.

* US indicted him in 2000 for his role in the bombings of US embassies in Konya and Tanzania in 1998,which killed over 220.

* US prosecutors charged him with helping to conduct ‘visual and photographic surveillance’ of the US mission in Nairobi in 1993 and 1995.


* His capture is the latest blow to what remains of the original Qaeda organisation after a 12-year American campaign to capture or kill its leadership. Two years ago,US forces carried out a a similar raid in Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden.

* Despite his presence in Libya,Liby was not believed to have played any role in the 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi.

* He may have sought to build networks connecting what remains of the Qaeda to like-minded militants in Libya.

The baraawe raid came 20 years after the ‘Black Hawk Down’ battle in Mogadishu — a mission to capture Somali warlords.

In September 2009,US special forces killed senior al-Qaeda militant Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in a raid in southern Somalia.

He was suspected of building the bomb that killed 15 people at an Israeli-owned hotel on the Kenyan coast in 2002.

In January 2012,members of the elite US Navy SEALs rescued two aid workers after killing their nine kidnappers.

David D Kirkpatrick reported from Cairo; Nicholas Kulish from Nairobi; Eric Schmitt from San Francisco

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