Accused al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Anas al-Liby is set to face a judge in New York federal court over charges stemming from the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.
Al-Liby, 49, was transferred to U.S. civilian custody in Manhattan over the weekend, Bharara said yesterday in a statement. U.S. forces captured al-Liby and detained him outside Libya, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Oct. 5. Al-Liby, a Libyan, was among a group of men charged by federal prosecutors in Manhattan with being a participant with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a global plot to attack U.S. citizens and facilities.
“Anas al-Liby was transferred to law enforcement custody this weekend and was brought directly to the Southern District of New York where he has been under indictment for more than a decade,” Bharara said in the statement, adding that al-Liby is expected to make a court appearance today.
In an operation approved by President Barack Obama, al-Liby was captured last month in front of his home in Tripoli as he returned from a mosque, according to Jumas al-Mishri, a Libyan Interior Ministry official.
He had been held on the USS San Antonio in the Mediterranean Sea, where he was questioned by interrogators including representatives of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a U.S. official briefed on the operation who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Libyan government, in a statement on its official Facebook page at the time, said “Libyans should face trial in Libya regardless of the charges.”
Al-Liby was indicted in 2000 for participating in the August 1998 near-simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that killed more than 224 people, including 12 U.S. citizens, and injured thousands. He is charged with multiple counts including conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and to destroy U.S. buildings and installations. He is also charged with plots to attack U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia.
During a 2001 federal trial in Manhattan of four men who conspired in the global plot against the U.S., two former al-Qaeda members described al-Liby’s activities.
Jamal al-Fadl, a bin Laden aide who left the group and became a cooperating witness for the U.S., testified that al-Liby was a “computer expert” who also did surveillance work for al-Qaeda, including taking photographs outside the embassy in Kenya prior to the bombings.
Another former al-Qaeda member who agreed to cooperate with the U.S., L’Houssaine Kherchtou, testified at that 2001 trial that he had seen al-Liby outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and that al-Liby had given “surveillance training” to other al-Qaeda members, instructing them how to use small cameras to take “surreptitious” photographs of U.S. targets, including the embassies.
During the trial, federal prosecutors also showed jurors a terrorist manual, found during a search of al-Liby’s home, that included a declaration on its second page that stated, “Jihad Holy War Against the Countries, Tyrants, Military Series.”
The manual included instructions on how to organize terrorist operations, forge documents, make counterfeit currency and communicate and travel surreptitiously.
The document also included a description of how to conduct “attacks” including “Item number 7” which described “blasting and destroying the embassies and attacking vital economic centers.”
The FBI had placed a $5 million bounty seeking information on the whereabouts of al-Liby since he was named in the federal indictment in 2000.
On Oct. 11, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in New York, who is presiding over the embassy bombings case, denied a request by David Patton, a public defender, to appoint him as an attorney for al-Liby. Bharara’s office opposed Patton’s request because al-Liby must first prove he is indigent and can’t pay for a lawyer.
Prosecutors in Bharara’s office argued then that al-Liby hadn’t been “been criminally arrested” and was “detained by the United States Armed Forces acting under their own legal authorities.”
Kaplan said two federal judges in New York have ruled that the appropriate time to appoint counsel to a terrorism defendant was upon their arrival in the district and after providing proof of indigence. He said Patton’s request could be renewed at a later date.
Patton didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on the case.
Two other alleged al-Qaeda members, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz, have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial in federal court before Kaplan for the embassy attacks after being extradited to the U.S. from the U.K. last year after fighting extradition for more than a decade.
Five other people have been convicted at separate trials in 2001 and 2010 in New York on charges tied to the embassy attacks and were all sentenced to life in prison. A sixth man who the U.S. said was one of the founding members of al-Qaeda, pleaded guilty to attacking a federal jail guard in New York and is serving a life sentence.
Al-Liby’s son, Abdullah al-Rugai, said in an interview on Oct. 7 that his father was never a terrorist and never worked with Osama bin Laden. The son said his father had joined rebels fighting against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The case is U.S. v. Anas al-Liby, 98-cr-01023, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).