WASHINGTON (MCT) - A Libyan al-Qaida leader accused of helping to plot the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa was in federal custody in New York on Monday, nine days after a Delta Force raid captured him outside his home in Tripoli, and following a week of presumed interrogation on a Navy ship in the Mediterranean.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said he expected Abu Anas al-Libi, whose formal name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, to appear before a federal magistrate judge or district judge on Tuesday.
"Anas al-Libi was transferred to law enforcement custody this weekend and was brought directly to the Southern District of New York, where he has been under indictment for more than a decade," Bharara said in a prepared statement.
Al-Libi had been one of four fugitives among 21 people indicted in the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed 224 people, including two CIA agents and 10 other Americans.
A team of Army Delta Force, CIA and FBI agents nabbed al-Libi on Oct. 5 in the Libyan capital as he returned from morning prayers. He is believed to have then been questioned on a Navy ship for a week before his transfer to New York.
"It's a really good get," said Jack Cloonan, a retired FBI agent and former member of the bureau's Osama bin Laden unit. "It's unfinished business."
Cloonan, who said he tracked al-Libi "for a very long time," said U.S. prosecutors shouldn't have any difficulty putting him on trial in federal court instead of a military tribunal.
With President Barack Obama having renewed his pledge to close the U.S. prison for alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, holding a federal trial for a former bin Laden lieutenant such as al-Libi might set a precedent for how the 164 men still being held there will be tried.
Other accused al-Qaida militants at Guantanamo - including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - have been tried before military commissions at the prison.
"This is a very positive development," Gregory Fox, an expert on international law at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, said of al-Libi's transfer to New York. "Federal courts are vastly preferable to military commissions. They're more transparent. It shows that we don't lack confidence in the ability of our federal court system to handle the most serious crimes."
Fox said federal courts had a strong track record of dealing with alleged terrorists.
Obama approved the raid that captured al-Libi. He also signed off on a separate covert operation in Somalia the same day that targeted, but failed to capture, a leader of al-Shabab, an al-Qaida affiliate in the east Africa country.
Al-Libi is accused of conducting surveillance in preparation for the Aug. 7, 1998, embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Former associates are thought to be cooperating with the government and are expected to testify against him.
Cloonan said prosecutors had a "treasure trove" of evidence against al Libi, including blueprints drawn up by the bombers and the laptop computer used in the surveillance.
- Greg Gordon contributed to this report.
(c)2013 McClatchy Washington Bureau
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