An accused al-Qaida operative seized by U.S. commandos in Tripoli, Libya, over the weekend is being interrogated while in military custody on a Navy ship in the Mediterranean Sea, the New York Times reported Sunday, citing unnamed officials. He is expected eventually to be sent to New York for criminal prosecution.
The fugitive, known as Abu Anas al-Libi, is seen as a potential intelligence gold mine, possessing perhaps two decades of information about al-Qaida.
The decision to hold al-Libi, 49, and question him for intelligence purposes without a lawyer present follows a pattern used successfully by the Obama administration with other high-value terrorist suspects, most prominently in the case of Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a former military commander with the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab. Warsame was captured in 2011 by the U.S. military in the Gulf of Aden and interrogated aboard a Navy ship for about two months without being advised of his rights or provided a lawyer.
After a break of several days, Warsame was advised of his rights, waived them, was questioned for about a week by law enforcement agents, and was sent to New York for prosecution. Warsame later pleaded guilty and has been cooperating with the government, federal prosecutors have said in court papers.
Al-Libi is being held aboard the USS San Antonio, a vessel brought in specifically for this mission, officials said.
Al-Libi, who was born Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, has been indicted in New York on charges of conspiring with bin Laden in plots to attack U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia, as well as in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed 224 people.
The Defense Department said Sunday that al-Libi was "currently lawfully detained under the law of war in a secure location outside of Libya."
The Libyan government bristled at the raid, asking Washington to explain the "kidnapping."
The seizure of al-Libi on Saturday was carried out by U.S. troops assisted by FBI and CIA agents. Navy SEALs, meanwhile, carried out a raid on the Somali coast in the town of Barawe, trying without success to capture a leader of al-Shabab, the group that carried out the massacre at the mall in Nairobi, Kenya, two weeks ago, which killed at least 60 people.
The target is known as Ikrimah and is one of al-Shabab's top planners for attacks beyond its base in Somalia, a U.S. official said. Though Ikrimah had not been tied directly to the assault on the mall, fears of a similar attack against Western targets broke a deadlock among officials in Washington over whether to conduct the raid, an official said.
The officials spoke to the New York Times on the condition of anonymity to discuss the continuing interrogation and intelligence.