Al-Qaida operative's 'rendition' in Libya an intel coup for U.S. troops
WASHINGTON — The capture of an alleged al-Qaida operative outside his home by Special Operations Forces in Tripoli on Saturday and his secret removal from Libya was a rare instance of U.S. military involvement in “rendition,” the practice of grabbing terrorism suspects to face trial without an extradition proceeding and long the province of the CIA or the FBI.
U.S. officials hailed the capture of Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Anas al-Libi, who was wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, as an intelligence coup that will disrupt efforts by al-Qaida to strengthen its franchise in North Africa.
The raid in Tripoli occurred hours after Navy SEALs stormed a beachside compound in Somalia in a failed attempt to nab a senior militant leader from the east African country's al-Qaida franchise, known as al-Shabab. The two operations suggested that the Obama administration, which has been criticized for its heavy use of drone strikes against terrorism suspects, is increasingly willing to put ground troops in harm's way in order to seize high-value targets.
“These operations in Libya and Somalia send a strong message to the world that the United States will spare no effort to hold terrorists accountable, no matter where they hide or how long they evade justice,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement. “We will continue to maintain relentless pressure on terrorist groups that threaten our people or our interests, and we will conduct direct action against them, if necessary, that is consistent with our laws and our values.”
The Libyan government on Sunday condemned what it called the “kidnapping” of one of its citizens after al-Libi was forced out of his car and bundled away by men his brother described as foreign-looking “commandos.”
As they celebrated al-Libi's detention, Obama administration officials on Sunday were largely silent on a strike by Navy SEALs on a terrorist target in Somalia that appears to have failed.
SEALs stormed the suspected hideout of a leader of al-Shabab on Friday, seeking to detain a senior operative of the group. The troops retreated after an intense gunfight unfolded, fearing that escalating it could result in civilian casualties, U.S. officials said.
The operation was carried out in response to last month's brazen attack on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya, by al-Shabab that killed dozens of people and raised concerns about the reach of a group that had appeared to be in retreat and focused on Somalia.
A former U.S. Special Operations Forces operative familiar with Somalia policy said the seaside town of Baraawe, where Friday's raid took place, has become a key hub for senior al-Shabab leaders after they lost control of other areas. The group exports charcoal from the town, which represents an important source of revenue.
“It's where the leadership hangs out,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe U.S. intelligence.
U.S. officials said both operations were lawful under war powers that Congress granted the executive branch after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks.
“Our personnel in the armed forces conducted two operations in order to continue to hunt down those responsible for acts of terrorism,” Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday in Indonesia, where he is attending a summit. “We hope that this makes clear that the United States of America never stops in its efforts to hold accountable those who conduct acts of terror.”
U.S. officials also noted that al-Libi is on a U.N. sanctions list and has been indicted in federal court in New York. They released no information about where he is being detained, but suggested that intelligence personnel are eager to interrogate him.
The closest historical parallel to al-Libi's capture, U.S. officials said, was the April 2011 detention of Amed Warsame, a Somali man who was accused of acting as a liaison between the al-Qaida branch in his native country and one in Yemen. Warsame, who was seized aboard a fishing vessel in the Gulf of Aden, pleaded guilty this spring in federal court to providing material support to terrorist organizations.
Warsame was held secretly at sea on a Navy vessel for 40 days and questioned by an interagency interrogation unit led by the FBI before being flown to New York for arraignment.
Robert Chesney, an expert in national security law at the University of Texas, said al-Libi probably is being held on a Navy ship in the Mediterranean. Because his detention has been immediately disclosed — unlike Warsame's — the Obama administration probably will come under pressure to bring him before a judge in New York quickly.
“The longer you hold him, the trickier it gets,” Chesney said, noting that a prolonged military detention could become problematic for federal prosecutors in a civilian court.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Boy with fake gun shot by officer dies
- E-cigarettes cut cravings, study finds
- Ohio dairy farmers cashing in on gas well boom
- Tension, anxiety mount in Ferguson as grand jury ruling awaited
- Police code of conduct aims to curb unlawful seizures from motorists
- Vatican prosecutor did not report abusive Catholic priest
- Nevada speaker-elect steps down amid criticism
- Graham rejects GOP Benghazi report as ‘garbage’
- Even before Ebola contained, U.S. looks to next health crisis
- Letter that inspired Beat poet Kerouac discovered
- Obama defends executive action on illegals