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Al-Qaeda Bomb Plot Suspect Al-Liby Pleads Not Guilty

Accused Al-Qaeda Terrorist Abu Anas al-Liby
Accused al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Anas al-Liby is seen in this photo released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 10, 2001. Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation/Getty Images

Oct. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Accused al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Anas al-Liby appeared in a federal court in Manhattan and pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Al-Liby, 49, wearing a black long-sleeved sweatshirt, grey sweatpants and flip flops with socks, arrived at the courtroom today with his hands handcuffed behind his back.

He was transferred to U.S. civilian custody on Oct. 12, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin told the court today. Al-Liby was captured by U.S. authorities in Libya and held on a U.S. naval vessel in the Mediterranean, said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Al-Liby spoke through an Arabic interpreter and told U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan he wanted to be known as Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai.

He pleaded not guilty to the indictment that accuses him of conspiring to kill U.S. citizens and attack American facilities. He entered his plea through David Patton, his court-appointed lawyer.

Kaplan ordered al-Liby held without bail, saying he is a flight risk and a danger to the community. Noting that al-Liby said he can’t afford a defense lawyer, the judge appointed Patton and Sabrina Shroff, of the Federal Defenders office, to represent al-Liby temporarily. The judge also ordered that al-Liby receive medical attention.

Bombing Conviction

Patton said his office may have to withdraw because colleagues had previously represented another man convicted of carrying out the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya, Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-’Owhali.

The judge set the next court date for Oct. 22 to determine if new counsel should be appointed.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lewin, in response to a query from Kaplan, told the judge that al-Liby isn’t eligible for the death penalty.

Al-Liby’s initial appearance in a U.S. courtroom was held under heavy security including a dozen deputy U.S. marshals. Also attending today’s proceeding was Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was once a prosecutor on the office’s terrorism unit as well as Lorin Reisner, head of the office’s criminal division and Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Zabel.

U.S. forces captured al-Liby and detained him outside Libya, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Oct. 5. Al-Liby, a Libyan, is 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.

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.

Facing Trial

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.

Left Group

During a 2001 federal trial in Manhattan of four men who conspired in the 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.”

Economic Centers

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.

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.

The case is U.S. v. Anas al-Liby, 98-cr-01023, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Patricia Hurtado in New York at pathurtado@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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