Kerry says Libya raid not a 'kidnapping'

Many Libyans say US special forces raid that captured alleged Al Qaeda operative violated their sovereignty.

Wong Maye-E/AP
US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers his keynote address at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Bali, Indonesia, Monday, Oct. 7, 2013. Kerry, speaking at the economic summit, told reporters that the Libya raid to capture senior Al Qaeda member Nazih al-Ruqai was conducted legally.

US Secretary of State John Kerry defended Saturday's special forces raid in Libya, calling the abduction of senior Al Qaeda member Nazih al-Ruqai "legal and appropriate," despite Libyan protestations that Mr. Ruqai was "kidnapped" in violation of domestic law.

Mr. Kerry, speaking at an economic summit in Indonesia, told reporters that the Libya raid to capture Ruqai, also known as Abu Anas al-Liby, was conducted legally, as was a simultaneous but unsuccessful effort to capture another terrorist leader in Somalia, reports BBC News. Kerry added that Ruqai would be tried in a court of law.

"With respect to Abu Anas al-Liby, he is a key al-Qaeda figure, and he is a legal and an appropriate target for the US military," Mr Kerry told reporters on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit in Indonesia. ...

Mr Kerry said 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".

The New York Times reports that Ruqai is being held in military custody on board a US Navy ship in the Mediterranean, where he will be interrogated before eventually being flown to New York to face federal charges related to various Al Qaeda plots, including the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed 224 people.

The Times writes that Ruqai "has been described as a Qaeda computer expert and helped to conduct surveillance of the embassy in Nairobi, according to evidence in trials stemming from the bombings."

But the Associated Press reports that it was "unclear" whether Ruqai's role in Al Qaeda was significant – it describes him as a "scout" in the 1998 attacks – and whether he was involved in any militant activities in Libya. His family and peers say that he was never a member of the terrorist group and had not been involved in any militant activities since 2011, when he returned to Libya after several years in Afghanistan and Iran.

AP adds that in a statement issued Sunday, the Libyan government complained about the raid.

...The Libyan government said it asked the U.S. for “clarifications” about what it called the “kidnapping,” underlining that its citizens should be tried in Libyan courts if accused of a crime. It said it hoped its “strategic partnership” with Washington would not be damaged by the incident.

Still, the relatively soft-toned statement underlined the predicament of the Libyan government. It is criticized by opponents at home over its ties with Washington, but it is also reliant on security co-operation with the Americans.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that Libyans are divided over the raid – some agree with the US operation, while others criticize it as a violation of Libyan sovereignty. But even the critics agree that the raid highlights the relative impotence of the government in Tripoli when it comes to dealing with Islamists in the country, where militias operate with impunity.

Fahed Bakoush, a young activist in Benghazi, ... wants more done to resist extremism. Last year he was among the first people to discover [Christopher] Stevens, the former ambassador [killed in a militant attack in Benghazi], unconscious in the US consulate and helped organize rallies to condemn violence. Still, he says yesterday’s raid went too far.

“It’s like someone breaking into your house,” he says. “We had a revolution to build a strong, free Libya.”

He wants Libyan authorities to fight criminality “with an iron hand,” he says. But he concedes that for now, they can do little. The state’s weakness was underscored yesterday when gunmen opened fire on a military checkpoint outside Tripoli, killing 15 soldiers.

“What the raid also did was to show that the Libyan state cannot maintain security,” he says.

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