US captures Al-Qaeda leader wanted over 1998 embassy bombings

Raid in Tripoli follows separate Navy SEAL operation in Somalia targeting 'high-profile' members of Al-Shabab

The rubble of the U.S. embassy in Kenya is seen in 1998 after an attack, which the U.S. alleges was partially planned by Anas al-Liby (inset).
Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images; Inset: FBI

A senior Libyan Al-Qaeda figure wanted by the United States for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa has been captured by American forces, according to officials and the suspect’s brother.

Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Anas al-Liby, was parked outside his house in Tripoli early Saturday following dawn prayers, when personnel in three vehicles encircled him, smashed his car's window and seized his gun before grabbing him and fleeing, al-Liby’s brother Nabih told the Associated Press. The AP identified those involved in the action as members of the U.S. Army's Delta Force unit.

The raid was later confirmed by the U.S Department of Defense.

"As a result of the Libya operation, one of the world's most wanted terrorists was captured and is now in U.S. custody," U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement issued Sunday afternoon.

The Pentagon has so far declined to provide further specific information regarding the mission. But Department of Defense Press Secretary George Little said in an earlier statement that al-Liby was being held in a "secure location outside of Libya."

The capture ends a 15-year manhunt for the 49-year-old, who was listed on the FBI’s most wanted list. It also opens the way for criminal proceedings against him to take place in the U.S.

Al-Liby was indicted by the Federal Court for the Southern District of New York in 2000 for his alleged role in planning the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya on Aug. 7, 1998. The attacks killed 224 civilians and injured 5,000 others.

The U.S. Department of State was offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

The Libyan government has asked for "clarifications" from the U.S. on the raid, adding that Libyan nationals should be tried in their own country. It also said it hoped the incident would not affect its strategic relationship with the United States.

Mohamed Sheikh Nor/AP

Related: US Navy SEALs behind raid on Al-Shabab base

On the same day U.S. forces captured Libyan Al-Qaeda figure Anas al-Liby, Navy SEALs are believed to have also carried out a pre-dawn raid on a Somali coastal base housing members of the armed group Al-Shabab. The operation was aimed at "high-profile" targets of the group, military officials said.

Read more.

Al-Liby was believed to have been seen as a computer specialist within the Al-Qaeda network. He studied electronic and nuclear engineering, graduating from Tripoli University. The timeline between al-Liby's time at Tripoli University and his detention Saturday is unclear, but it is believed that he became an anti-Muammar Gaddafi activist, and spent time in Sudan, where Osama bin Laden was based in the early 1990s.

After bin Laden was forced to leave Sudan, al-Liby turned up in Britain in 1995, where he was granted political asylum and lived in Manchester.

He was arrested by Scotland Yard in 1999, but released because of lack of evidence and later fled Britain.

Al-Liby's name was included on the FBI's most wanted terrorists list that was introduced shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Prior to Saturday, there have been a number of reports of his arrest, all of which were later denied by U.S. officials.

In 2007, Human Rights Watch said it believed he was among about two dozen people who may have once been held in secret CIA prisons.

The group said it believed he was held in Sudan, but didn't elaborate, and said his whereabouts were later unknown.

Al-Liby's family returned to Libya a year before the revolt against Gaddafi, under an initiative by Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam who sought to reconcile with militants who renounced violence, a close friend of al-Liby told the AP, refusing to identify himself because of security concerns.

U.S. officials said they had the support of the transitional Libyan government in Saturday’s capture, but Libyan officials denied they had any role.

In a separate raid in Somalia on Saturday, the U.S. attempted to capture multiple leaders associated with Al-Shabab, the armed group that claimed responsibility for a mall attack in Kenya two weeks ago that left 67 people dead.

The pre-dawn raid focused on “high-profile” targets, U.S officials said. No one was taken into custody in the Somali operation.

In his Sunday statement, Secretary Hagel vowed to maintain "relentless pressure" on terrorists around the globe.

"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," he said.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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