A team of U.S. military, intelligence and Justice Department interrogators has been dispatched to an American warship in the Mediterranean to question terrorism suspect Abu Anas al-Libi, who was captured in Libya over the weekend in a secret special-forces operation, two law enforcement officials said Monday.
Al-Libi, whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, was indicted in 2000 for his alleged involvement in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa. He is currently being held in military custody aboard the U.S. naval vessel USS San Antonio under the laws of war, which means a person can be captured and held indefinitely as an enemy combatant, one of the officials said.
As of Monday, al-Libi had not been read his rights — which includes the rights to remain silent and speak with an attorney. Both officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation.
The interrogators sent to question al-Libi are part of a group of interrogators called the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. The group was created by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 to juggle the need to extract intelligence from captured suspected terrorists and preserve evidence for a criminal trial. It's part of Obama's strategy to prosecute terrorists in U.S. civilian courts.
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In 2011, the U.S. captured Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali citizen suspected of helping support and train al-Qaeda-linked terrorists. Warsame was questioned aboard a warship for two months before he was brought to the U.S. to face charges. He pleaded guilty earlier this year and agreed to tell the FBI what he knew about terror threats and, if necessary, testify for the government.
Under interrogation, Warsame gave up what officials called important intelligence about al-Qaeda in Yemen and its relationship with al-Shabab militants in Somalia. Because those sessions were conducted before Warsame was read his rights, the intelligence could be used to underpin military strikes or CIA actions but were not admissible in court.
After that interrogation was complete, the FBI stepped in and started the questioning over in a way that could be used in court. After the FBI read Warsame his rights, he opted to keep talking for days, helping the government build its case.
It was unclear Monday when al-Libi, who had a $5-million US reward on his head, would be brought to the U.S. to face trial or whether there would be additional charges.
The Obama administration has said it can hold high value detainees on a ship for as long as it needs to.
The FBI and CIA had been tracking al-Libi for years, two former U.S. intelligence officials said. Both former officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak about the case.
The U.S. intelligence community began focusing on trying to capture al-Libi after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was deposed and the country's civil war simmered down, one of the former officials said, adding that the U.S. army's Delta Force worked with local Libyans to apprehend al-Libi. One of the New York FBI's counterterrorism squads, CT-6 — which focuses on Africa — played a significant role in the capture.
Somalia op targeted Kenyan militant
A separate top-secret U.S. special forces operation over the weekend attempted, but failed, to capture another militant thought to be involved in plots against targets in Africa.
U.S. Navy SEALs tried to nail Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir in a pre-dawn, seaside raid in Somalia, a U.S. official told The Associated Press.
Abdulkadir, also known as Ikrima, is a Kenyan who had plotted to attack his country's parliament building and the United Nations headquarters in Nairobi, according to a Kenyan government intelligence report.
The U.S. troops are not believed to have captured or killed their target. The official insisted on anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information
In the internal report by Kenya's National Intelligence Service, Abdulkadir is listed as the lead planner of a plot sanctioned by al-Qaeda's core leadership in Pakistan to carry out multiple attacks in Kenya in late 2011 and early 2012. The AP has previously reported that those attacks, linked to the Somali Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab, were disrupted.
The report, which was leaked to AP and other media in the wake of the Sept. 21 attack on Nairobi's Westgate Mall that killed more than 60 people, lists Samantha Lewthwaite — a Briton known in British media as the "White Widow" — as one of several "key actors" in the plot to attack Parliament buildings, the UN Office in Nairobi, Kenyan Defence Forces camps and other targets. The plotters also intended to assassinate top Kenyan political and security officials, the report said.
Police disrupted that plot. Lewthwaite, who was married to one of the suicide bombers in the 2005 attack on London's transit system, escaped capture when she produced a fraudulently obtained South African passport in another person's name. Late last month Interpol, acting on a request from Kenya, issued an arrest notice for Lewthwaite.
Report warned of mall attack
The National Intelligence Service report, in an entry dated exactly one year before the Sept. 21 mall attack, said al-Shabaab operatives were in Nairobi "and are planning to mount suicide attacks on an undisclosed date, targeting Westgate Mall and Holy Family Basilica." Two suspects were believed to have suicide vests, grenades and AK-47 assault rifles, the report said.
The report also warns of "Mumbai-style attacks," referring to the assaults in Mumbai in 2008 in which operatives stormed several locations with guns and grenades.
The report makes no mention of Abdulkadir in relation to the attack on Westgate Mall.
The men who attacked the Westgate Mall last month and held off besieging Kenyan troops for several days were armed with grenades and AK-47s, but apparently had no suicide vests. It was unclear if one planned attack on the mall was foiled and then carried out again or if it was merely postponed for a year by al-Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the carnage.
The internal document shows that Kenyan intelligence officers have detailed information about plots and individuals tasked with carrying them out, and that the spy handlers face a continuous threat. Other targeted sites included the Hilton Hotel, the Yaya shopping mall, the office of the prime minister, and possibly the embassies of the United States — which was blown up by al-Qaeda in 1998 — and of Britain and Israel.