(NEW YORK) — Snatched off the streets of Libya, interrogated on a U.S. Navy ship and finally appearing in a wood paneled courtroom in New York City, alleged al Qaeda member Abu Anas al Libi went before Judge Lewis Kaplan on Tuesday to plead not guilty on terrorism charges.
The 49-year-old appeared far older than his FBI wanted picture — gaunt, hollow cheeks, grey-brown scraggly beard. He was cuffed at the wrists, not the ankles. He spoke a bit in a gravelly voice to state his name and answer judge’s questions.
“It’s a good day,” said FBI special agent Rich Frankel.
Al-Libi, whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, had been on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list for more than a decade for his alleged involvement in the dual bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 which claimed more than 200 lives, 12 of them American.
The U.S. Army’s famed Delta Force grabbed al-Libi Oct. 5 in an early morning operation, according to a military source, as he was returning home from morning prayers in Tripoli, Libya. He was then whisked to a Navy ship in the Mediterranean, where security experts said he was likely questioned by the U.S. government’s High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) for days before likely being turned over to the FBI for transport stateside.
Prosecutors said he was secretly spirited to the U.S. over the weekend. Two U.S. officials said Monday the move was hastened because of al-Libi’s health — his illness described by one official as “severely acute last week.”
Another official told ABC News he feared al-Libi would not live long enough to “see justice served in a courtroom.”
Al-Libi’s wife previously revealed her husband suffered from hepatitis C in media interviews.
“We know that Mr. [Anas] al-Libi planned and helped execute plots that killed hundreds of people, a whole lot of Americans, and we have strong evidence of that and he will be brought to justice,” President Obama said last week, dodging a reporter’s question about whether the snatch operation complied with international law.
Two days after al-Libi’s capture, his wife told CNN her husband is innocent of the U.S. accusations and said he left al Qaeda two years before the embassy bombings.
Al-Libi will be assigned an attorney at a later court hearing.
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