Washington – U.S. special forces in Libya on Saturday captured a senior al Qaida leader who’d been sought since 1998 for involvement in the coordinated bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
Pentagon press secretary George Little confirmed late Saturday that Nazih Abdul-Hamed al Ruqai, known by his alias as Abu Anas al Libi, was being held by “the U.S. military in a secure location outside of Libya.”
Little said only that al Libi’s capture had been “the result of a U.S. counter-terrorism operation,” but al Libi’s relatives in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, told reporters that gunmen in a three-car convoy seized him outside his home Saturday in an early-morning raid.
Little provided no details of what U.S. authorities planned to do with al Libi, who is under U.S. federal indictment for his alleged role in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed 212 people, among them two CIA employees and 10 other Americans.
Al Libi is also facing U.S. charges for having allegedly helped orchestrate the nearly simultaneous bombing on Aug. 7, 1998, of the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. At least 11 people died in that attack.
The Obama administration has declined to bring captured terrorist suspects to the U.S. detention center at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo, Cuba, saying the U.S. civilian criminal justice system has proven more effective than military commissions in bringing suspects to justice. But a decision to bring al Libi to New York for trial also is likely to set off more debate about administration policy toward accused terrorists.
Al Libi is believed to have returned to Libya in 2011 during the U.S.-backed uprising that led to the overthrow and death of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The FBI had placed a $5 million bounty on al Libi’s head.
Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, hailed the reported capture of al Libi.
“If true, reports of the capture of Abu Anas al Libi would represent a major blow against the remnants of al Qaeda’s core,” Schiff said. “Al Libi is particularly important, as he was a mastermind behind the 1998 embassy bombings and was thought to be in Libya to help set up new cells and recruit new members.”
The capture of al Libi came one day after U.S. forces launched a raid on a town in Somalia in an effort to capture what was a described as a leading member of al Shabab, the Somali affiliate of al Qaida that has claimed responsibility for the recent assault on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya.
“I can confirm that yesterday, Oct. 4, U.S. military personnel were involved in a counter-terrorism operation against a known al Shabab terrorist,” Little said.
But he declined to elaborate and it was not clear who the Shabab leader was and whether he had been captured alive or killed. A U.S. official, who requested anonymity in order to provide more details of a classified operation, said the raid was “aimed at capturing a high-value al Shabab terrorist leader.”
No U.S. forces were injured or killed, and they inflicted “some al Shabab casualties,” the official said. There were conflicting reports on whether the al Shabab leader was killed or captured during the raid, or may have escaped.
The raid in the Somali town of Baraawe was tied to the Sept. 21 terror assault that left 67 people dead at the Westgate mall.
“Westerners in boats attacked our base at Baraawe beach,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, an Al Shabab spokesman, told Reuters. “No planes or helicopters took part in the fight.”
Reuters reported that seven people were killed in the raid. It quoted a Somali official as saying the target of the operation was a Chechen commander who was wounded during the firefight.