The family of Abu Anas al-Libi, the alleged al-Qaeda leader seized by American forces in Libya, last night claimed he was innocent and had been working in a pizza restaurant while in Britain, not masterminding international terror attacks.
|Abu Anas al-Libi (AFP)|
But he insisted his father had gone to Afghanistan to “help the oppressed” and was innocent of the murders of 224 people in the twin bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam, of which he is accused by the US.
Al-Libi, whose real name is Nazih Abdulhamad al-Ruqaie, was seized in a dawn raid outside his home in Tripoli suburb on Saturday. US officials said the raid was led by special operations Delta Force marines, but the family and Libyan officials say what they call the “kidnappers” included men speaking a local Arabic dialect.
He was immediately spirited out of the country, the Pentagon said, prior to interrogation. US sources told the New York Times that he was being held on the USS Antonio, a naval vessel sent specifically for the mission.
He would be questioned without a lawyer before being transferred for trial to the United States, where there is a $5 million (£3 million) bounty on his head on charges that he helped plan the 1998 embassy attacks.
The evidence against him comes from two aides to Osama bin Laden, Jamal al-Fadl and L’Houssaine Abu Talal Kherchtou, who defected and told investigators that al-Libi developed photographs of the targets at his flat in Nairobi.
In Britain, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, was questioned about how al-Libi won political asylum and lived in Manchester from 1995. He fled Britain after his house was raided in 1999 – and after he was himself arrested, according to one former FBI officer.
Mrs May said that since she came into government she had excluded “more extremist hate preachers than ever before” but refused to discuss the al-Libi case in specific terms.
Mr Ruqaie said his entire family had moved to Britain. He and his elder brother, Abdulrahman, who was killed two years ago fighting in the rebellion against Col Muammar Gaddafi, attended primary school in Manchester, where the family lived in the Cheetham Hill district. He had two younger brothers, one born in Britain, and a younger sister.
He said that in 1999, his father, who by day worked in a restaurant, came under suspicion from the authorities. “We left Britain because the government had started to harass us,” he said. “They inspected our house, confiscated computers, and other electrical appliances.”
The police later said that on al-Libi’s computer they found a 180-page document outlining methods of terror attacks and assassinations. It was subsequently used as evidence in US trials of some of those accused over the embassy bombings.
Mr Ruqaie described an extraordinary subsequent decade in which the family moved first to Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda was based while the country was under Taliban rule. The family do not deny that he al-Libi was close to Osama bin Laden, but say he was in his security detail, not a “terror planner”.
After the 9/11 attacks, the family fled with many other al-Qaeda operatives into Iran, where he said they were at first imprisoned. “We were under arrest for seven and a half years. At first we were mistreated – they locked us up in an underground prison. Later we were taken to house arrest, in a house surrounded by a fence, and heavy guard, with other families.
“We were not even allowed out to visit a doctor, unless the case was serious.”
Many al-Qaeda leaders, including family members of bin Laden, are known to have spent time in Iran and some are thought to remain there.
The Libyan authorities have demanded an explanation for the “kidnapping” of al-Libi, saying he should have been tried in Libya. But John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said the action was “appropriate” and that the US would do “everything in its power that is legal and appropriate in order to enforce the law and protect our security”.
Mr Ruqaie said his father was being denied his due rights. “How come they kidnapped him and we didn’t know any thing about what happened to him until the next day?” he said. “Their talk about human rights is nonsense.
“I can’t believe that he will answer any of their questions without a lawyer. Anything that happens to my father now is the responsibility of the Americans and the Libyan government.”