Libyan Man Accused of Links to al-Qaeda Appears in Public for First Time Since Being Captured Ten Days AgoOctober 18, 2013 in Uncategorized
Ten days after being seized during a US raid in Tripoli, Abu Anas al-Libi, the alleged architect of al-Qaeda’s bombing of two US embassies in 1998, plead not guilty in a New York courtroom. If convicted, he faces a sentence of up to life in prison.
Appearing in public for the first time since being captured by US forces in Libya earlier this month, Abu Anas al-Libi, whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, appeared in a federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday. After spending a week aboard a US Navy ship in the Mediterranean, Mr. Al-Libi, 49, appeared exhausted and frail. Speaking Arabic through a translator, he asked to be addressed by his real name and confirmed that he understood that he had been accused of planning the August 1998 attacks. After denying a series of terrorism charges, that date back twenty years, Mr. Al-Libi entered a not guilty plea through his lawyer. Presiding Judge Lewis Kaplan has adjourned the hearing until 22 October, noting that the suspect must be kept in detention as a flight risk.
In the weeks since the 5 October mission, which simultaneously saw US Commandos attempt to track down a top al-Shabaab commander in Somalia, anger has been rising in Libya over the raid, with many viewing it as a breach of Libyan sovereignty. Although US Secretary of State John Kerry has defended the capture of Mr. Al-Libi, calling him a “legal and appropriate target,” the Libyan government has demanded a full explanation of the raid from the officials in the US. This resulted in Libya’s justice minister summoning the US ambassador to the country for questioning last week. In turn, Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has also voiced his concerns, noting that his country was “keen on prosecuting any Libyan citizen inside Libya.” Shortly after being captured, Mr. Al-Libi was taken to a US navy vessel in the Mediterranean. According to reports, Mr. Al-Libi was interrogated by intelligence officials on board the USS San Antonio for a period of a week after his capture. Court details have also indicated that Mr. Al-Libi was not formally arrested until a week after being seized. This has prompted critics in the US to accuse President Barack Obama of continuing controversial detention policies that had been introduced by former President George W. Bush.
Mr. Al-Libi was wanted in connection to the 7 August 1998 bombing of a US embassy in Nairobi and of America’s diplomatic mission in Dar es Salaam. The attacks were carried out when trucks laden with explosives detonated almost simultaneously. More than 200 people died in the Kenyan capital, with at least 11 dead in Dar es Salaam. Thousands others were injured in the bombings. The majority of the victims were civilians.
For the past decade, Mr. al-Libi has been on the FBI’s most wanted list, with a US $5 million (£3.1 million) bounty on his head. He was formally charged with conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim Americans, to damage and destroy US buildings and property, and to attack US national defence facilities. The charges against him also include discussing a possible al-Qaeda attack against the US embassy in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in retaliation for the American military intervention in Somalia. In a 157-page indictment, prosecutors allege that from 1993, he carried out surveillance on the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where he took photographs that were later inspected by Osama bin Laden. The former computer programmer is also alleged to have “reviewed files” concerning possible attacks on Western interests in East Africa.
The second US command raid on 5 October was carried out in southern Somalia however that mission failed to capture its target – Abdukadir Mohamed Abudkadir, a Kenyan al-Shabaab commander who is also known as Ikrima. That raid came in the wake of the attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi, which left at least 67 people dead, and which was claimed by al-Shabaab militants.
On Monday, United States Secretary of State John Kerry defended the capture of an alleged al-Qaeda leader who was apprehended on Saturday during two raids that were carried out by US commandos in Libya and Somalia. The US Secretary of State has indicated that the operations in Libya and Somalia showed that the US would never stop “in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror.”
On Saturday, the Pentagon confirmed that US commandos captured an alleged al-Qaeda leader, Anas al-Libi, who has been suspected of masterminding the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa. His capture was confirmed by his son, Abdullah al-Raghie, who stated that his father was seized by masked gunmen in Tripoli early on Saturday as he was parking outside his house after returning from morning prayers. He has claimed that the Libyan government was implicated in his father’s disappearance, however officials in Tripoli have denied any involvement.
Amidst calls by officials in Libya on Sunday to receive an explanation pertaining to the special forces raid on its territory, US Secretary of State John Kerry defended the capture, stating on Monday that Anas al-Libi was a “legal and appropriate target.” Speaking to the media on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Indonesia, the Secretary of State further noted that “with respect to Anas al-Libi, he is a key al-Qaeda figure, and he is a legal and an appropriate target for the US military.” When questioned whether the United States had informed Libya prior to the raid, Kerry refused to confirm or deny, stating only that “we don’t get into the specifics of our communications with a foreign government on any kind of operation of this kind.” The operation to capture Libi has drawn fury from the Libyan government, which has since stated that the operation was unauthorized and that Libi had been kidnapped. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s office has also stated that the Prime Minister has requested full clarification on the raid, stressing that Libya was “keen on prosecuting any Libyan citizen inside Libya.”
According to sources, Anas al-Libi, 49 and whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, was married with a daughter and three sons, one of whom was killed in a battle with pro-Kadhafi forces when the rebels entered Tripoli in October 2011. Libi, a computer specialist, left Libya during the early 1990’s when Kadhafi was cracking down on Islamist groups. During that time, Libi joined Bin Laden’s terror organization in Sudan and would later follow the group to Afghanistan before securing political asylum in Britain in 2000. He is believed to have been one of the masterminds behind the 1998 US embassy attacks, which killed more than 200 people in Kenya and Tanzania. On 7 August 1998, a car bomb explosion outside the American embassy in Nairobi killed 213 people, and wounded 5,000. Almost simultaneously, a truck laden with explosives detonated outside the US mission in Tanzania, killed 11 people and leaving another 70 wounded. Al-Qaeda later claimed responsibility for both attacks. When a US court indicted him in connection with the bombings, he fled to Pakistan. Sources have indicated that he returned to Libya shortly after the outbreak of the revolt against Kadhafi, and probably would have fought against the rebels who ousted the longtime dictator.
Libi has been on the FBI’s most wanted list for more than a decade with a US $5 million (£3.1 m) bounty on his head. The raid to capture him came as Western Intelligence agencies increasingly feared that he had been tasked with forming an al-Qaeda network in Libya. According to a US official, shortly after the raid, Libi was taken to a US Navy warship in the region, where he was being questioned. This was confirmed by the Pentagon, which stated that he was being “lawfully detained under the law of war in a secure location” outside Libya. The operation in Tripoli ended a thirteen-year manhunt for Libi who was one of the last remaining high-level operatives from the core terror network that was established by bin Laden in the 1990‘s. His arrest paves the way for his extradition to New York to face trial.
With authorities and officials in Libya insisting that they were unaware of the US operation, the capture of the senior al-Qaeda militant is definitely an embarrassment for the fledgling government and could result in outrage amongst the country’s Islamist extremists. While authorities in Libya have been struggling to assert control over the countless numbers of militias that emerged during the 2011 uprising against Moamer Kadhafi, many militias have refused to disarm and effectively now control large portions of the country. Some of the militias in question include hardline Islamists who have accused the post-Kadhafi government of being too close to the West. In turn, reactions to his capture in Libya have been mixed, effectively demonstrating the divide in the country amongst Islamists and their secular opponents.
While the operation in Libya achieved its objective, it remains unclear whether the raid on a beachfront villa in southern Somalia was a success.
On Saturday, US commandos carried out an operation to capture one of the leaders of al-Shabaab however unconfirmed reports have indicated that SEAL commandos were forced to withdraw before confirming the kill. Reports have indicated that the mission was aborted after the commandos encountered fierce resistance from al-Shabaab fighters. The operation, which was carried out by members of SEAL Team Six, the same unit that killed Osama Bin Laden, occured Barawe, which is located 180 kilometers (110 miles) south of the capital city of Mogadishu. A US official has identified the militant as Ikrima, a Kenyan of Somali origin, however Washington has yet to formally name the intended target. When asked on Sunday as to whether officials in Somalia had been aware of the raid, Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid stated that “our co-operation with international partners on fighting against terrorism is not a secret.”
In response to the raid, an al-Shabaab military operations spokesman, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, a fighter was killed during the raid. Al-Shabaab’s commander in the southern Somali port of Barawe, Mohamed Abu Suleiman, also noted that “the enemy of Allah tried to surprise the mujahedeen commanders with a night attack using a military helicopter, but they were taught a lesson and they have failed.” Residents of Barawe reported they were woken by heavy gunfire before dawn prayers and some of them saw commandos, presumed to be from a Western nation, rappelling from a helicopter and attempting to storm a house belonging to a senior al-Shabaab commander. Local media has also reported that two helicopters were involved in the raid. By Saturday morning, residents reported that al-Shabaab militants were heavily deployed on the streets of the town.
The raid comes shortly after al-Shabaab confirmed that it had carried out last month’s attack on the Westgate shopping centre in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, leaving at least sixty-seven people dead. Sources have indicated that while Ikrimah was not linked to that attack, the raid has prompted fears that the target could be planning a similar assault on other Western targets in the region.
Multiple nations currently operation Special Forces in the wider Horn of Africa region, and many have carried out similar missions in the past. In recent years, both US and French Special Forces have carried out raids on coastal targets in Somalia. Last year, US Navy Seals flying at least six military helicopters carried out an operation to rescue two aid workers held by pirates in northern Somalia. Washington has also used drones in Somalia to support the local government and African Union (AU) forces in their battle against al-Shabaab militants. And earlier this year, France carried out an unsuccessful raid to free a French intelligence agent. On 12 January, elite French forces carried out an overnight operation, involving some fifty troops and at least five helicopters, in southern Somalia. Two French commandos were killed and al-Shabaab later reported that it had killed the agent. With minimal information being released pertaining to Saturday’s raid, it currently remains unclear whether either of these countries was involved. Furthermore, Western navies are present in the region, patrolling the seas off Somalia, which has been beset by conflict for more than two decades. While they have been tasked with fighting piracy, in 2009, US Navy commandos attacked and killed an al-Qaeda leader, Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Nabhan, during a daylight raid on Barawe.
On Monday, Kenyan security forces announced that they were attempting to clear the Westgate shopping complex in Nairobi after a three-day siege.
Earlier on Monday, sources outside the Westgate shopping centre reported that explosions and heavy gunfire were heard as soldiers stormed the mall where suspected al-Shabaab militants are thought to be holed up. The Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) have also indicated that three terrorists had been killed and that all escape routes inside the centre have been sealed off. Flames and thick smoke continues to rise from the building, with KDF officials stating that the fire had been started by “terrorists to distract the ongoing operation.” The blaze is currently being managed by firefighters. On the ground sources have reported that the attack was carried out by ten to fifteen militants, with officials stating that some of them are still on the run, hiding in shops. The Kenyan government has also stated that almost all of the hostages have been evacuated from the shopping centre, however it remains unclear whether any are still in the hands of the militants. This may be one of the reasons why authorities are moving cautiously in an attempt to ensure that there is no further loss of life. Security has increased throughout the country. The Interior Ministry has issued regular warning for people to stay away from the area for their own safety. Security at entrance and exit points across the country has also been stepped up, with the ministry confirming that “more than ten individuals” have been arrested in relation to the attack.
Three Day Siege Began on Saturday
The official death toll stands at 62, with more than 170 injured. Eleven KDF soldiers have also been injured during the operation The three-day siege started on Saturday when militants entered the Westgate centre at about 12:00 local time (09:00 GMT), throwing grenades and firing automatic weapons. Although dozens of shoppers fled the scene, many remained trapped inside. Some witnesses reported on Saturday that the gunmen had told Muslims to leave and that non-Muslims would be targeted. In a nationally televised address on Saturday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta indicated that the operation to secure the mall and catch the gunmen was ongoing. As on the ground sources reported that officers were going from shop to shop in order to secure the area, a senior al-Shabaab figure confirmed that the militant group was responsible for carrying out the deadly attack on the shopping centre. On its Twitter account, al-Shabaab stated that it was behind what it called the “Westgate spectacle,” adding that the attack was in response to Kenya’s ongoing presence in Somalia. Some seven hours after the initial assault began, al-Shabaab indicated on its Twitter account that its fighters were still battling Kenyan security forces inside the Westgate centre. However a security source had indicated that police and soldiers had finally “pinned down” the gunmen in one corner of the shopping centre after several hours of fighting. Kenyan officials also stated that four gunmen have been arrested and that one died of his wounds.
On Sunday, Kenya’s President stated that the country would remain united and strong in the wake of the deadly attack. The announcement came as witnesses outside a security cordon reported gunfire and a large explosion, with increased gunfire occurring around 16:00 GMT on Sunday. Between ten and fifteen attackers, all believed to be al-Shabaab militants, were still inside the complex along with some civilians who are still trapped, either as hostages or in hiding. Some reports have indicated that the gunmen are holed up in a supermarket and that there are a number of women who have been reported to be amongst the attackers, however these reports have yet to be confirmed. Al-Shabaab has claimed that there are currently at least thirty-six hostages being held inside the complex, however this number cannot be confirmed. During a news conference on Sunday Kenya’s President stated that “the criminals are now located in one place within the building,” adding that “with the professionals on site, we have as good a chance to neutralize the terrorists as we could hope for.” He also thanked those who helped with the rescue efforts, and asked other countries not to issue travel advisories against visiting Kenya
Amongst the confirmed dead are Mr. Kenyatta’s nephew and his fiancee. The UK Foreign Office has also confirmed that three Britons have been killed, noting that the number is likely to rise. French, Chinese, Ghanaian, Dutch, South African, Indian and Canadian nationals are also among the foreigners confirmed killed, along with a dual Australian-British national. The wife of an American working for the US Agency for International Development was also killed along with prominent Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor, who was attending a literary festival in Nairobi.
Who are al-Shabaab
Al-Shabaab, which is based in Somalia, has links to al-Qaeda and although the Somali government has pushed the militant group out of a majority of the main towns it once controlled in southern and central Somalia, this latest deadly attack carried out on a shopping centre in neighbouring Kenya proves that the militant group remains a potent threat.
In Arabic, al-Shabaab means “the youth.” The group emerged in 2006 as the radical youth wing of Somali’s now obsolete Union of Islamic Courts was fighting Ethiopian troops who had entered into Somalia in order to back the weak interim government. It is banned as a terrorist group by both the United States and the United Kingdom. There have been numerous reports that foreign jihadists have travelled to Somalia in order to help al-Shabaab which strives to impose a strict form of Sharia law in those areas under its control. Al-Shabaab’s version of Sharia law includes stoning to death women who have been accused of adultery as well as amputating the hands of thieves.
While over the past two years, al-Shabaab has lost control of the towns and cities thorughout central and southern Somalia, the militant group continues to control many rural areas in the region. The group was forced out of the capital city of Mogadishu in August 2011 and in September 2012, they left the vital southern port of Kismayo. The port city had been a key asset for the militants as it effectively allowed supplies to reach areas under their control, providing taxes for their operations. While the African Union (AU), which is currently supporting Somali government forces, hailed the withdrawal of al-Shabaab from Kismayo and Mogadishu as a great success, the militant group continues to carry out frequent attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere. Furthermore, although they have lost control of the major cities, al-Shabaab has increasingly been focusing on a guerrilla style of warfare that has effectively made the group more potent.
Rarely seen in public, Ahmed Abdi Godane is the head of the group. Also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, al-Shabaab’s leader comes from the northern breakaway region of Somaliland. He is known for his hardline and international agenda and is responsible for the group’s close links with al-Qaeda. Godane announced in February 2012 that al-Shabaab joined forces with al-Qaeda. In a joint video, Godane stated that he “pledged obedience” to al-Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri.
While the group has carried out a number of attacks within Somalia, with attacks increasing in recent months, al-Shabaab has carried out deadly attacks outside of the country as well. The most recent was carried out on a shopping centre in Nairobi, Kenya on 21 September, in which at least sixty-eight people were killed. It was responsible for a double suicide bombing in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, which killed seventy-six people who were watching the 2010 football World Cup final on television. The attack was carried out because Uganda, along with Burundi, were responsible for providing the bulk of AU troops in Somalia prior to Kenya sending in its own troops. The 2002 twin attacks on Israeli targets near the Kenyan resort of Mombasa were allegedly planned in Somalia by an al-Qaeda cell, while officials in the US believe that some of the al-Qaeda operatives responsible for carrying out the 1998 attacks on its embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam fled to Somalia shortly after the attacks.
Witnesses have reported that two Islamists from the United States and the United Kingdom have been killed in a shootout in Somali after falling out with al-Shabaab. Reports have indicated that Alabama-born Omar Hammami, better known as al-Amriki, along with Osama al-Britani, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, are said to have died in an early-morning attack on a village located just south-west of the capital city, Mogadishu. One of al-Amriki’s fighters has indicated that the two men were overpowered by al-Shabaab militants who attacked a village near the town of Dinsor. He further noted that the militants had taken away the bodies of the two Westerners. According to the fighter, another of their allies, Khadap al-Masari, originally from Egypt, surrendered while two other extremists, including one foreigner, have also been reportedly killed in the battle however their identities have not been released. According to sources, the two militants left al-Shabaab after they fell out with the group’s top leader Ahmed Abdi Godane. The two men are also believed to be allies of veteran Somali Islamist, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Awyes, who split from the militant group in June of this year. Reports have indicated that since the split, al-Shabaab militants have been hunting down and killing any allies of Awyes. In June of this year, militants loyal to Godane killed two of their own top commanders; many believe that this prompted al-Amriki and al-Britani to flee and go into hiding. Awyes is currently in the custody of the UN-backed government. So far, there have been no comments or confirmations of the two militants‘ deaths from the Somali government, however local residents, along with a senior source within al-Shabaab, have confirmed that the two men are dead. Al-Amriki was one of the most prominent foreigners fighting in Somalia. In March of this year, the US State Department offered a US $5m (£3.1m) reward for any information that would lead to his capture and conviction. He grew up in the town of Daphne in the state of Alabama, and was supposedly radicalized after a visit to Syria as a teenager. Over the years, he became an adherent of stricter Islam and moved to Somalia in 2006 where he joined al-Shabaab and became one of the militant group’s senior officials. There is minimal information about al-Britani. While officials in the UK have previously stated that they have been aware of the Briton’s presence in Somalia for some time, they have not confirmed his death.
Meanwhile some 160 Somali religious scholars have issued a fatwa, denouncing al-Shabaab, stating that the militant group has no place in Islam. This is the first time that Somali leaders have pronounced a fatwa against the military group, which continues to control many rural areas throughout the country despite being pushed out of key cities over the past two years. The announcement was made at a conference in Mogadishu on the phenomenon of extremism where the scholars stated that they condemned al-Shabaab’s use of violence. The fatwa also comes at a time when residents of central Somalia indicated that al-Shabaab militants executed a young man in the town of Bula Burte and performed a double amputation on another in front of a crowd of several hundred. One of the aims of the conference was to issue Islamic opinion on whether the group had legitimacy or not, with the final fatwa concluding that it is not an Islamic movement. Sheikh Hassan Jaamai, an Islamic scholar, stated shortly after the conclusion of the conference that “it’s like a gang that comes together to kill Somalis…without any legitimate reason or justification.” Sheikh Abdikani, a participant from the Gulf, stated that “the only thing they want is to create chaos in the country so that they can survive,” it is believed the Sheik was referring to two bomb attacks carried out on a restaurant in central Mogadishu that killed fifteen people on the opening day of the conference. Al-Shabaab has since confirmed responsibility for the attacks. Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud opened the government-organized conference, which drew Somali scholars, elders and imams from both within the country and abroad. At the end of the four-day conference, the seven points of the religious edict included:
- “Al-Shabaab has strayed from the correct path of Islam, leading the Somali people onto the wrong path. The ideology they are spreading is a danger to the Islamic religion and the existence of the Somali society.”
- “The Somali government is an Islamic administration; it is forbidden to fight against it or regard its members as infidels.”
- “Al-Shabaab, an extremist group, must alone to God and must cease its erroneous ideology and criminal actions.”
- “It is forbidden to join, sympathize or give any kind of support to al-Shabaab.”
- “It is a religious duty to refuse shelter to al-Shabaab members, who must be handed over to Somali institutions responsible for security.”
- “It is a taboo to negotiate on behalf of al-Shabaab members in custody or release them from jail.”
- “Somali officials have a religious duty to protect the Somali people from the atrocities of al-Shabaab. The Somali public also has an obligation to assist the government in its security operations against al-Shabaab.”
Nearly one year into its mandate, the internationally-backed government in Somalia continues to struggle as it’s first anniversary in power approaches. Al-Qaeda-inspired fighters, breakaway regions, coupled with rival clans and an ongoing climate of insecurity are the continuing threats that are jeopardizing the current government’s initiatives of concluding decades of anarchy. Although the current government was the first to attain global recognition since the collapse of the hardline regime in 1991, and has since seen billions in foreign aid being poured into the country, officials within the country have struggled to maintain security. Somalia has taken steps forward, particularly in the coastal capital city of Mogadishu, which is now busy with laborers rebuilding after al-Shabaab fighters fled their city two years ago. However the situation throughout the rest of the country continues to remain bleak. Outside the city, the weak central government continues to maintain minimal influence as much of the country is fractured into autonomous regions, including the self-declared northern Somaliland. Earlier this month, the northeast region of Puntland cut ties with the central government while in the far south, self-declared leaders in the Jubbaland region continue to defy Mogadishu’s authorities. In turn, multiple armies are fighting for control of southern Somalia, including rival warlords, Islamist extremists and a national army that is backed by the 17,700-strong African Union (AU) force. Al-Shabaab too remain powerful, despite losing a string of key towns and leaders, the terrorist group continues to carry out attacks. A suicide attack on a UN compound in June of this year demonstrated al-Shabaab’s ability to strike at the heart of the capital’s most secure areas. Last month, a report released by the UN Monitoring Group estimated that al-Shabaab still have some 5,000 militants within its group and that they remain the “principal threat to peace and security in Somalia.” Aid workers are struggling to contain a dangerous outbreak of polio, with the UN warning that while more than one hundred cases have been recorded, there are “probably thousands more with the virus.” Compounding the problem is an almost impossible environment for aid workers. In a major blow this month, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), an aid agency used to working in the world’s most dangerous places, pulled out of Somalia after two decades of providing aid in the country. The agency cited that it could no longer put up with a “barrage of attacks,” including kidnappings, threats, lootings and murder. Over a million Somalis are refugees in surrounding nations and another million are displaced inside the country, often in terrible conditions, with the UN warning of “pervasive” sexual violence.